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MOVIE REVIEW : Skateboard Wizardry in ‘Gleaming’

There’s a genuine attempt in “Gleaming the Cube” (citywide) to deal with the impact the loss of a brother has upon a likable, footloose teen-ager. Unfortunately, the conventions of the action-adventure/youth-flick genres prevail. The result is an exploitation picture with a little something extra--lots of awesome skateboard wizardry, culminating in a speed-of-lightning chase sequence, in which skateboards are pitted against cars.

The film is geared ruthlessly to teen audiences. In fact, how many people beyond their teens know that its title refers to that exalted state a skateboarder attains at the top of his form?

Christian Slater stars as Orange County teen Brian Kelly, spiky-haired and sloppy, for whom skateboarding has a far greater priority than his studies. But no problem: He has an adopted Vietnamese brother named Vinh (Art Chudabala), a studious and orderly youth, who’ll do his homework for him. Then, shockingly, Vinh is found hanged to death in a motel room.

Incredibly, only Brian suspects murder. He does get a local cop (Steven Bauer) to listen, but after a series of contrived macho clashes between the two, Brian takes matters into his own hands.

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“Gleaming the Cube” is not the first movie to be set in part against Orange County’s large Southeast Asian community. However, as in “Steele Justice,” the film makers are interested in it primarily as an exotic backdrop for crime and violence. Surely, the majority of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees building new lives in America are not involved in gang warfare and other illicit ventures, but that’s not the impression you get here.

Writer Michael Tolkin provides only Slater with a role of much dimension, and this nervy, bright young actor, who played Jeff Bridges’ eldest son in “Tucker” and Sean Connery’s apprentice in “The Name of the Rose,” involves us in Brian and his quest. Slater shows us Brian discovering how much brotherly love he actually felt for Vinh, love that had been repressed by resentment.

We get precious few glimpses of Brian’s parents (Ed Lauter, Nicole Mercurio)--why, for example, wouldn’t they have also suspected foul play in Vinh’s death? Slater and Lauter have one good scene in which the father admits he failed to realize the impact upon Brian of his efforts to make his adopted son feel special. There’s also an initially wary friendship between Vinh’s demure girlfriend (Min Luong) and Brian, but action is the main attraction in this fantasy.

Director Graeme Clifford gets full value from the script (which allows Bauer and others little latitude). The action sequences do dazzle, and Clifford makes the most of the few quieter moments. The film’s flashy finish smashes credibility to smithereens, but “Gleaming the Cube” (rated PG-13 for violence) has the feel of a film that turned out exactly as intended.

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