I currently work in a kitchen at a bourgie movie theater with a bunch of kids many years my junior who don’t regularly watch movies. What do they do with their all of their time, you ask? They enjoy active, athletic, adventurous, outdoor activities (the horror!). More specifically, they skateboard. Much like with other niche interests like jazz, superhero comics, or people who are super into bikes, skateboarding is a somewhat isolated culture with its own terminology, history, and built-in attitude that can be downright intimidating for folks who aren’t already in the know. Listening to my coworkers go on about riding fakie or Baker 3 is like listening to comics nerds go back & forth about the faithfulness of movie adaptations or jazz enthusiasts drool over time signatures or whatever. I generally have no idea what’s going on & best can contribute to the conversation as an ill-informed buffoon.
1986’s Thrashin’ is a shrewd, timely cash-in on skateboarding’s inherent cool at the height of one of the sport’s biggest spikes in popularity. It plays a bit like what might have happened if I had tried to write a skateboarding film, buffoonish in its attempts to speak the lingo & capture the sport in a marketable movie about a war-torn romance. Telling the story of two rival skate gangs warring over the territory where they go thrashin’ (which the movie helpfully explains is an aggressive style of skating) the film is laughably unconvincing in its depictions of denim vest-sporting skateboarders dancing on their boards in mosh pits, wearing pads & helmets, and shouting things like “Wild!”, “Acid rock!”, and “Gnarly!” in encouragement to tricks they find impressive. In addition to the “gnarly” skateboarding antics, the film also tackles a Romeo & Juliet love story that most skate-happy teens would probably balk at. A way to get a good idea of how divided the film is in trying to please everyone is to focus on the film’s soundtrack, which has skate-friendly contributions form people like punk heavies DEVO, Circle Jerks, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who briefly perform for the camera), but also features long stretches of generic, gentle guitar-solo & keyboards 80s pop. It might’ve been fun for the 80s skateboarders to see (or at least make fun of) their insular culture’s journey to the big screen, but for the most part the film is concerned with courting an entirely different kind of audience.
You don’t have to be in-the-know to enjoy what Thrashin’ has to offer as an over-the-top camp fest. Even a skateboarding buffoon such as myself should find humor in the film’s hopelessly corny dialogue, which includes the The Wild One nod, “What do you trash?” “What do you got?”. The half-cooked romance plot can also be highly amusing, especially in a tender, candlelit lovemaking scene that focuses way more on the male lead’s body that it does on his partner (despite early scenes of macho bikini babe ogling). My favorite aspect of the film its Classic 80s Plot of leading up to The Big Competition (The L.A. Massacre) at the climax. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there is a Warriors-inspired sequence involving “jousting” on skateboards as a means of settling inter-gang disputes. All this and early performances from Josh “Thanos” Brolin & Sherilyn “Audrey Horne” Fenn. Yes, there is plenty to admire here in terms of so-bad-it’s-good silliness & cultural time capsule charm.
I don’t think Thrasin’ has brought me any closer to my coworker’s far-removed world of gnarly! grinds & acid rock! kickflips. Like I said, the film comes mostly from an uninformed outsider’s perspective, giving off the vibe they’d probably get if one of their dads strapped on a helmet & some elbow pads and tackled a vert ramp. Instead, I see Thrashin‘ as a kind of middle ground between their interests (thrashin’) & mine (terrible movies). If nothing else, there’s got to be some value in that.