Way back in 1995, Larry Clark’s Kids inflamed riotous debates in polite company, like this: “I don’t know anyone like that.” “I do.” “Hey, check out this MIT World Wide Web-Site that counts how many cans are left in their Coke machine.” How naive we were then: Kids endures as a compelling portrait of teenage amorality, even if his larger documentary project ultimately remains better achieved in his legendary photography. Unfortunately for Clark, it’s now Wassup Rockers and not the still-unreleased Ken Park that gets distributed as his latest report from the sebaceous frontlines of adolescent subcultures.
The Hispanic skateheads who are his latest subject are at first a likable next step: they’re great fun to hang out with, and their brand of merry mayhem and companionship save Clark from retreading exhausting nihilism he’s already chronicled. Their amateur–acted adventures — hurling themselves down stairs, getting harassed by police and picked up by rich girls (this is Clark, remember) — roll along for a while with a dopily antic quality, in the eternal present and ramble of basically a children’s book (albeit more frequently pantsless). That’s despite (and yet, intriguingly, perhaps also because of) being cast as born–loser victims of classism, racism, and that great bogeyman, misunderstanding. The mess results as Clark gives up on his usual seat–of–the–pants–but–present structure, dissolving into a parodist’s lunacy and a cajoler’s melodrama rather than a teenager’s. The argument for a hip sixty–something recording kids instead of leaving it to them (in the post–Kids webcam age) gets a lot weaker with the distance that unmistakably creeps in here.