When his adoptive brother apparently commits suicide, a teenage skateboarding screw-up investigates the death and uncovers a crime ring.
Graeme Clifford, 1989
Failing student and teen screw-up Brian Kelly (Christian Slater) is focused on one thing and one thing only: his love of skateboarding. This obsession puts him at odds with his loving parents, who just don’t understand him. Luckily for Brian, his straight-laced brother Vinh (Art Chudabala) just gets him, man. However, when Vinh comes across some dodgy numbers at the drug store where he works, he stumbles across a criminal operation that’s bigger than he can handle. Vinh’s death is reported as a suicide, but Brian thinks there’s more to it. Using his trusty skateboard, he starts to investigate Vinh’s life and the circumstances leading to his death. He clashes with brash young detective Al Lucero (Steven Bauer), who is torn between irritation at Brian’s bad attitude and being impressed by his tenacity. Brian also befriends Tina (Min Luong), the daughter of Vinh’s former boss and Vinh’s ex-girlfriend, in order to further investigate Vinh’s death. Their shared grief and the search for the truth lead Brian to turn his life around.
Gleaming the Cube is absolutely, objectively, not a good movie. I had so much fun watching it that the simple not-goodness of it didn’t bother me that much, though. There’s something so eminently watchable about young Christian Slater; he plays the same role over and over again, but the patented Vulnerable Bad Boy shtick that he’s just settling into here is so effective. There were moments when I felt genuinely sorry for his character, when he’s struggling with just being a teenage boy who’s lost someone who understood him, whom he loved. It’s a nice counterpoint to the skateboarding action, which rarely gets exciting. It’s occasionally hilarious and often dull, but only when the gang comes out in full force does it ever really have any impact. Brian’s “emotional skateboarding” scenes come across as terribly silly, echoing that one scene in Footloose when Kevin Bacon angry-dances through the barn, only without the good choreography or music or cinematography.
With the exception of Slater, most of the performances in this film are sub-par. Steven Bauer as Brian’s cop irritant-turned-bro overacts horribly, while Art Chudabala as Brian’s dead-bro is totally flat. There is a nice friendship storyline between Vinh’s former girlfriend and Brian, which encourages Brian to make a few changes to his life that have his family and friends flabbergasted. It’s an interesting direction for the story to take, and the movie really picks up from there. What works about Gleaming the Cube (and yes, the inspiration for the name is as stupid as it sounds) is the film’s focus on Brian’s journey. Vinh is undoubtedly fridged, but Brian not only changes his bad behaviour, but seems genuinely interested in learning more about his brother after losing him. He investigates Vinh’s Vietnamese heritage and tries to befriend the people Vinh cared about. It’s sweet, and sad, and oddly affecting. The action and intrigue take a back seat to this character development, which is good because they are easily among the weaker points of the film. Vigilante Brian works okay at the start of the film, and one scene where he hides out in a car is riddled with genuine tension. By the time the film reaches its big climax, though, it is…anticlimactic. Still, it’s a much more fun movie than I was expecting it to be.
Gleaming the Cube on IMDb