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Wassup Rockers

(2006) ** 1/2 Unrated
99 min. First Look Pictures. Director: Larry Clark. Cast: Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Usvaldo Panameno, Laura Cellner.

Larry Clark's latest look at teen Angelenos, Wassup Rockers, may be his most immature film, but it does have something about it. Clark's filmic designs have always been rather rudimentary; he has a photographer's eye, but less of a sense of coverage or how it will all cut together. More than any of his other pictures, Wassup Rockers is a photo essay with moving pictures: anthropological snapshots of seven Salvadoran and Guatemalan skaters ostracized for their ethnicity and fashion choices.

The plot, then, is thin and unconvincing: when the boys venture into Beverly Hills for the day, everyone they encounter pegs them as "dangerous" Mexicans. This may be fine for the white girls looking for strange (the boys instinctively recognize that being "from the ghetto" is a pick-up tactic), but cops, movie stars, a gay, predatory photographer, and a batch of clean-cut mod boys spell trouble for the punk-rock wild children. The conflicts are generic and the characters underdeveloped, but when Clark simply lets the actors—who appear to be playing themselves--speak for themselves, the results are momentarily intriguing.

Recognizing this, Clark opens the film with fourteen-year old Jonathan Velasquez, not acting by telling tales out of school about his friends and their sexual peccadillos. After a credit sequence launches us into Wassup Rockers' reality-inspired fiction, we meet those friends, playing themselves: wannabe player Kico (Francisco Pedrasa), Milton Velasquez (unfortunately nicknamed Spermball), Usvaldo "Porky" Panameno (Porky), Eddie Velasquez, Luis "Louie" Rojas Salgado, and Carlos Ramirez.

The film almost succeeds at coasting on the boys' adolescent, anti-authoritarian, horny energy, whether they're skating over the Walk of Fame, turning the cop's face red, crashing through punk-rock practice (for their band The Revolts), or rebelliously crashing "whatever you've got."

Clark has a reputation as a cinematic chicken hawk, but his underage cast brings out restraint that perversely adds to the sexual tension (Wassup Rockers is full of coitus interruptus). Still, Clark includes a parodic self-portrait to mock his critics: that gay photographer, leering at the boys, offering to shoot them, and lulling, "I just want to help you with your career." The scene reminds us once again of Clark's affinity for his subjects: he's a punk himself, and if you don't like it, you can go screw yourself.

[For Groucho's interview with Larry Clark, click here.]

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