I don’t know what’s worse: getting blown up in nuclear war or having a 7-11 on every corner.
In my effort to watch movies from 1989 (because 30th anniversary) that I missed the first time around, I rattled the streaming services to see what shook down. Not to steal the 80s All Over podcast thunder — but I definitely don’t plan to watch everything from 1989. They’re doing the heavy lifting, I’m just doing a couple squats and calling it a day.
I have a weakness for 80’s counterculture movies and Christian Slater; therefore, it’s inexplicable that I’d never sat down with Gleaming the Cube until now.
We’re Surrounded by Gleaming the Cube and We Don’t Even Know It
Released on January 13th, 1989 in 469 theaters at a time when everyone was watching Rain Man and any other movie might as well just bugger off — Gleaming the Cube made only $2.7million at the box office. It gained more life on home video and cable replays on USA Network and has become a cultural touchstone for young skaters everywhere. References to the film have appeared in The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, South Park, The Goldbergs, The Lego Batman Movie and even the new Netflix Voltron series.
Christian Slater plays Brian Kelly, a 16-year-old skateboarder who takes it upon himself to investigate the death of his adopted Vietnamese brother after the police rule his death a suicide. Brian and his anti-establishment skater friends take down Cali-based international arms dealers by being punk as hell and now kowtowing to the man.
And that’s all you really need to know. Brian falls for a girl, gets dismissed for being a social misfit, and ultimately proves that despite his outward IDGAF appearance, he’s not the zero that everyone thinks. While the narrative feels trite and advances predictably, there’s a well-intentioned heart to the film that embraces the social consequences of being anti-establishment. I don’t want to oversell the film’s profundities, but Gleaming the Cube masks a certain amount of intelligence behind its caricature-laden and simpleminded facade — perfectly paralleling the plight of its main character.
I don’t know if director Graeme Clifford had such ambitions in mind for this teen drama, but I also can’t immediately discount him as someone who stumbled into relative creative success. Frances, his first feature, garnered Academy Award nominations for Lead Actress (Jessica Lang) and Supporting Actress (Kim Stanley). The biopic of Frances Farmer immediately preceded a couple episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. After Gleaming the Cube? A wasteland of Kirstie Alley and made-for-TV movies.
Gleaming the Cube Verdict
Kinda dumb, but dumb in a way that seems to be intentionally masking some intentioned ideas about counter/teen culture. The bevy of talented skaters/stuntmen include Tony Hawk and Mike McGill and even though I don’t follow skating I’m familiar with these two titans of the sport. As a result the skating scenes aren’t just cursory exercises — they’re carefully plotted and performed. There’s a reason Gleaming the Cube continues to inspire skateboarders in 2019.
You can’t deny the charisma of late 80’s/early 90’s Christian Slater. He’s a potent screen presence because he rides a line between a little bit dangerous and totally relatable. Although he’d already appeared in some prestige movies like The Name of the Rose and Tucker: A Man and His Dream, Gleaming the Cube gave Slater a chance to be his own thing — a thing that he would perfect later on in 1989 in Heathers and Pump Up the Volume (1990).
Gleaming the Cube is available on Amazon Prime Streaming. Unfortunately there’s no Blu-ray or HD version available.
James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.