A title like Roll Bounce doesn’t inspire confidence. It sounds like some bizarre drug reference, or maybe a much-unwanted sequel to Booty Call, or a feature-length ad for a new fabric softener. But it’s actually a reference to the roller-disco tune “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll,” in director Malcolm D. Lee’s nostalgic look at the days when bell-bottoms, Afros and roller-skating ruled the country.

The movie is a sweet-natured, summery blast from the past, and mostly irresistible for the first half, at least to anyone old enough to remember a time when kids skated through the streets with transistor radios plastered to their ears, kind of a That Black ’70s Show. Unfortunately, in the last half, the movie piles on the Big Dramatic Moments, so much so that it starts to feel like a bad after-school special from 1979.

The formerly “Lil” rapper Bow Wow plays Xavier, a teenage boy whose primary concerns are skating, girls and fighting with his precocious little sister. When he’s not bragging and scheming with his neighborhood buddies, Xavier’s still reeling from the untimely death of his mother, a loss also felt by his proud, secretive father (Chi McBride). Xavier and his pals are also mourning the loss of their beloved South Side roller rink, a lovably run-down place where they’ve spent all their time skating to Funkadelic and Kool & the Gang.

When the rink closes its doors, they have no choice but to take the bus uptown to a fancy new palace where the crowd is more upscale and the DJ plays dreaded Bee Gees songs. There, Xavier meets the girl of his dreams (the endearing Meagan Good) and locks horns with a rival “jam skating” crew headed by a flamboyant ladies’ man named Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan).

The movie is best in its most aimless moments, when the kids lazily pass the time by getting into water-balloon fights and playing Atari. Bow Wow makes an impressive leading-man debut; he’s believable and natural, even if he occasionally overdoes some of his reaction shots. As the widower who won’t take off his wedding ring, McBride is an utterly sympathetic authority figure, and the cameos in the supporting cast (including Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, Wayne Brady and teen heartthrob Nick Cannon) are hilariously colorful. But the film wears thin during a few over-the-top domestic-quarrel scenes, as well as in the climactic skate-off between Xavier and Sweetness.

Roll Bounce may indeed be better than its title suggests, but the shameless finale almost squanders all the good will built up by the first half of the film.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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