I'm one of a decreasing number of serious fans of Larry Clark's film work. With disturbing, violent, sexually graphic stories about troubled teenagers (Kids, Bully, the still-unseen-in-America Ken Park), Clark endears himself to few people. I'd like to think a part of this is the discomfort that his leering camera brings out in audiences: perhaps there's a sense of, "If I say I like this film, people are going to think I'm a pedophile!" But teens are sexual, and that's that. Clark may have mixed motivations behind documenting it, but it's a theme that doesn't need to be brushed under the carpet just because it may make a few adults feel dirty about watching it.
Even as it tones down the nudity and violence, Wassup Rockers is in the same spirit as Clark's other films, this time focusing on seven young Latino skateboarders from South Central Los Angeles. In a sense, there are two separate films here: The first half of Wassup Rockers is a laid-back look at these charming young punks as they skate, play music, make out with girls, and loaf. Then one day they decide to head up to Beverly Hills to go skating, and the film takes a sharp left turn into the unbelievable.
Without giving too much away, the lads encounter one ridiculous Beverly Hills stereotype after the next: impossibly horny girls with besuited preppy boyfriends, a creepy gay photographer, a Charlton Heston-like gun nut, and a drunk actress on the wrong side of 40. These caricatures – and what they do with the boys – are so over the top that if you think Clark is trying to be realistic, you're going to hate this film. But if you accept, as I found myself accepting, that this second half of the movie is a sort of teen punk fantasy, the life of the rich and strange as seen from the pleasantly warped vantage point of young Latino outsiders, then you'll buy it. There is an absurdist flavor here that's reminiscent of classic punk films like Repo Man, Rock 'n' Roll High School, and Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.
This isn't a great work of art, but it's enjoyable, and if you can get past the somewhat homoerotic fetishism with which Clark shoots his stars – particularly the main two boys, Jonathan and Kiko (amateur actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves) – then you too might appreciate Wassup Rockers as an authentic punk movie. And even if it plays dumb, it's far more honest about Los Angeles-style racism than Crash ever was, and far less self-important about it.