Making the jump from the computer and television screens of Canada to the big screen, sketch troupe Picnicface makes its first (and judging by this piece possibly only) foray onto the big screen with the roller disco opus Roller Town, a funny and appropriately silly send up of 70s disco movie conventions that never lapses into outright nostalgia for the bygone days of bell bottoms and mirror balls. While it shows some slight strains that naturally comes with people from sketch and stand up backgrounds aiming ambitiously high, the laughs come consistently, blending parody, satire, and farce on a level the troupe hasn’t been able to pull off before.
In a move directly out of the Saturday Night Fever playbook, hardworking and fun loving Leo (Mark Little) consistently sees his dreams of joining what one hopes is the only roller dancing conservatory in the country dashed time after time. He becomes smitten with one of the conservatory’s star pupils (Kayla Lorette) and he watches as his beloved disco rink gets taken over by the man who killed his father who’s now gunning to turning the local hotspot into a (gasp!) video arcade.
Cribbing generously from 70s “classics” like Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A. and featuring an ending straight out of The Apple, director and co-writer Andrew Bush keeps the energy level appropriately high and only resorting to sketch styled transitions (like some pretty hilarious fake album tracks from a wonderfully attired band) to bail him out of a tight spot. It never feels like the kind of “free jazz” style of filmmaking that would be so easy for a sketch troupe to attempt. These guys know how to stage gags and while the pacing sometimes feel a little all over the place even at a scant 78 minutes, they trim the fat enough around the edges that it feels like an accomplished, no bullshit bit of cinematic silliness.
The cast also more than pulls their weight with Little perfect as the oblivious dreamer who’s often blissfully unaware of how goofy and socially awkward he really is. Pairing him with the absolutely adorable Lorette as the goody-two-shoes daughter of the local mayor gives the film it’s heart and some of the film’s most laugh inducing sequences. Bush also steals a few scenes of his own in a brief role as an inspirational hobo with an unusual sexual fetish, and George Basil and Brian MacQuarrie have some stellar moments as the film’s primary villain and a belt wielding grandfather, respectively.
If the rumors of the members of Picnicface going their separate ways for a while are true, it’s kind of a bummer. Roller Town shows a real potential for a homegrown National Lampoon or Broken Lizard styled film franchise. Next to Goon there hasn’t been a stronger Canadian comedy this year, and for a country that birthed SCTV maybe we need something like Roller Town to take a step back and just laugh a little at our shared comedic history.