It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
You could think of Larry Clark's "Wassup Rockers" as "Ferris Velasquez's Day Off." In Los Angeles, a group of Latino friends, all about 14, spend a very long day traveling from their homes in South Central to Beverly Hills and back home again, and although they are light-hearted and looking for fun, they don't have Ferris Bueller's good luck. The movie evokes the sense of time unfolding thoughtlessly for kids who have no idea what could happen next.
Clark usually makes movies about teenagers and has a rapport with them that's privileged or creepy, depending on your point of view. His first film was the powerful "Kids" (1995), which launched the acting careers of four first-timers: Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigny, Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce, and the writer-director Harmony Korine. "Bully" (2001) saw how a group dynamic works to drive teenagers toward a murder none of them would have done alone. "Ken Park" (2002) was bold in its frankness about teenage sexuality; a success at Telluride, it was never released commercially in the United States, not because of its content but because, Clark says, a producer never cleared the music rights.
Now comes "Wassup Rockers," containing one and probably two deaths, a lot of tension between Latinos and African Americans, and run-ins with cops and home owners. Perhaps because we hardly meet the first boy who dies and the second is shot offscreen, the movie is not as fraught as it could have been, and indeed is Clark's least harrowing work.
The heroes are mostly of Salvadoran descent, although they are routinely mistaken for Mexican Americans. They come from a poor district; one kid's mother is apparently a lap dancer. But Clark's characters do not carry guns, steal, use drugs or smoke (anything). At 14 years old, you're thinking, let's hope not -- but Clark's subject is often how children get into sex, drugs and violence when they are way too young. These kids don't set out looking for trouble, although it finds them.