When you think of 90s fads that came in with a boom and then faded into obscurity, what pops in your head? Pogs, Tamagotchis, snap bracelets, and using condoms are a few that come to mind, but there is a certain activity that really stands out. There was only one pastime that could be considered the epicenter of cool and the essence of radical: the graceful, skilled, chick magnet of an extreme sport known as rollerblading.
Now, some of you may now scoff at the idea of inline skating as a worthy pursuit, but in the early 90s, it was nothing short of a worldwide cultural obsession. Kids would beg their parents to pony up the dough to buy them a shiny new pair of K2s or Eddie Bauers, complete with grind plates and expensive custom wheels, so they could shred up the rails at the local skate park and annoy pedestrians and law enforcement alike. The rabid bands of wheeled teenagers would flock to the streets to show off their skills. It became such a fashionable thing to do that it spawned all sorts of marketing gimmicks to cash in on the trend. One of which was the single most extreme, groovy, bodacious 90s teen film in the history of cinema–Airborne.
This movie is so cool that it had not one, but three taglines on its poster:
1. “Mitchell became the most popular guy on earth… once he took to the sky!”
2. “Man wasn’t meant to fly. Kids were!”
3. “Heroes aren’t made, they’re… AIRBORNE”
To execute a film based entirely around rollerblading may seem like a daunting task, but it was executed flawlessly. Mitchell Goosen is the typical SoCal surfer teen who can also rollerblade with the best of them. The film opens with Mitchell and one of his stoner friends blading through the streets of southern California and showing off some ridiculous tricks. With the shred fest completed, Mitchell rolls casually into his house where we meet his zoologist parents. After a short conversation, Mitchell learns that his parents are going to work in Australia for six months. With a gleam in his eye, Mitchell can barely contain his happiness about seeing hot australian chicks and surfing nonstop for the next six months.
This is where things get interesting. His parents drop the bomb that he will, in fact, not be accompanying them and will instead be spending the remainder of his high school semester in Cincinnati with his aunt, uncle, and goofy dweeb of a cousin Wiley (played by a young Seth Green).
As he steps off the plane, Mitchell faces the stinging reality of the cold, frozen wasteland he is about to be living in for the next half year. His aunt and uncle seem nice, but their super clean cut, old-fashioned demeanor is off-putting, but not quite as off-putting as his awkward teenage cousin Wiley.
Having to enroll in a whole new school with new challenges for these six months, Mitchell learns the hard way that being accepted in this new setting is not going to be so easy. Obstacle after obstacle gets in his way as the high school hockey team immediately dislikes him for his hippie-like disposition and pretty boy looks. His introductory quote to his classmates has enough 90s slang and surfer jargon to always elicit a laugh:
“Mitchell Goosen at your service. I’m not from around here. Well, I don’t have any stories, don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, don’t care. Just as long as I live near the beach and don’t have to wear a tie, then I’ll be stylin’. Let me tell you what stylin’ is: the perfect session, A-frame wave, ground swell, spittin’ out saltwater in your face, doing a little lip action move, a 360 without a bounce. I call it a Liquid Draino Wannabe Bullwinkle. I tell you no lie, my friends. It’s a consciousness raiser. Other than that, I dunno. Give me some Captain Crunchberries, a couple of bean burritos, maybe an Otter pop or two and I’m a pretty happy camper.”
It’s interesting to note that one of the meatheaded bullies, Augie, is played by a young Jack Black. This film is full of surprises. The main antagonist is a burly thug of a high school kid (who looks like he’s 30) named Jack.
However, Jack and the rest of the hockey goons end up needing Wiley and Mitchell to fill in for two hockey players who were caught pulling a prank and are barred from the upcoming game against their hated rivals, the preps. Mitchell, being a typical fish out of water, is unfamiliar with the game and ends up accidentally scoring a goal for the opposing team. Afterward, Jack manhandles Mitchell and leaves him unconscious on the ice. Because of the embarrassment caused by their defeat, the next few weeks are shown in one of the many montages of the film as Mitchell and Wiley are tormented unmercifully by the hockey players. After a strange dream sequence, Mitchell decides to confront the situation.
No teen film would be complete without a love story, though, and Mitchell begins to fall for the beautiful Nikki who used to date the leader of the preps, Blane. Their blossoming relationship results in one of the best 90s montages ever. Mitchell and Nikki take a romantic stroll through an indoor garden, but Mitchell cannot help strapping on his rollerblades and racing dangerously through the walkways of the indoor garden. The choice of music for this scene is rather odd as smooth 90s R & B accompanies the iconic montage. It has to be seen to be appreciated.
Later, at the local high school food hangout, Blane harasses Nikki and Mitchell steps in to diffuse the situation. Blane ends up trying to fight Mitchell, but the situation comes to an end when Jack arrives to protect Nikki. In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that Jack is actually Nikki’s brother. Mitchell then inadvertently insults Nikki by claiming that no one in Cincinnati is worth his time.
Anxious to redeem himself, Mitchell gets his chance when he decides to voluntarily join the hockey team once again for a street hockey match against the preps. Mitchell shows off his skills and singlehandedly scores a goal against the preps. Blane tries to act tough once again, but Mitchell has a surprise for him this time. As Blane skates away, Mitchell pulls his pants down in front of everyone, exposing his creepy looking bare ass to a large crowd of onlookers. Embarrassed and defeated, Blane exits with his tail between his legs and Mitchell finally gains the respect and acceptance of the hockey players.
The next day, the hockey team arrives at Mitchell’s aunt and uncle’s house to ask for his help and rollerblading skills for a race down a terrifying street called “Devil’s Backbone” against the preps. The first team with three racers crossing the finish line will be crowned winner. After a long racing montage complete with an impossible jump over a car and lots of hilarious wipeouts, Mitchell decides to jump off of an overpass to the tune of the famous 90s guitar sound in order to catch up with the rest of the racers. Blane is in sight of the finish line and need only cross it to win it for his team. He tries to sabotage Mitchell by smacking into him, but he misses and ends up wiping out himself into the water below.
Mitchell and Jack are the last two racers for their team and with victory dead ahead, Mitchell helps up a fallen Jack. Afterward, Mitchell slides across the finish line into the waiting arms of Nikki with Jack right behind him in a mutual victory. Finally earning the respect of Jack, Mitchell rejoices in both his rollerblading victory and the winning of Nikki’s heart. He is lifted on the cheering crowd’s shoulders as the movie fades out.
From a nostalgic standpoint, this movie has everything you could ask for. All of the 90s fashion accessories are here in full force as well as all your favorite fish out of water teen movie cliches. It’s an interesting take on the surfer movie genre as it is just plucked from the ocean and placed on the streets of Cincinnati with rollerblades instead of surfboards and, oddly enough, it works. Combine that with the fact that I counted almost 5 montages and you’ve got the makings of a classic. I watch this every time it comes on television and I even remember seeing it in theaters. I miss the days of skater culture that didn’t involve skinny jeans and hipsters.
Pick it up on DVD for cheap and you can experience the extreme awesomeness for yourself.