Saturday 15 January 2011

Obscurity Files #36 - Gleaming the Cube

Quite possibly the most random film I've ever chosen to review, let's take a look at the Christian Slater skateboarding drama, Gleaming the Cube.
More, next...

When his adopted Vietnamese brother Vinh is murdered, Brian (Christian Slater) decides to investigate the crime and hunt down the killers. The Police think Vinh's death was an unexplainable suicide, but Brian suspects foul play. Vinh had mentioned to Brian that he'd seen some irregularities in the books of his new employer, so he tracks his suspects by doing the old Marty McFly trick of hanging onto the back of cars whilst on his skateboard (something I've still yet to see done in real life), and quickly uncovers the reason for Vinh's death. Now all he's got to do is prove it to the cops.

Although he may look the part with his bleached blonde hair and scruffy demeanour, it turns out Christian Slater can't skateboard for shit, meaning his boarding scenes were performed by stand-ins (skaters of various height and weight, all wearing the same horrendous wig). Having far from seamless transitions between the close-ups and the wide shots, this is pretty obvious when Brian rides around an abandoned warehouse to vent his frustration, very much this films equivalent of Footloose's iconic punch dance. 

You've got to love a film that fades out from a shot of a spinning skateboard and onto a granite headstone. Following the death of his brother, Brian suffers what can only be described as a nervous breakdown, putting his skateboard away and dressing like his dead brother. But wait! 'Tis merely a ruse so Brian can blend in and get closer to Vinh's former employers.

Just in case you're wondering what 'Gleaming the Cube' means, it's a completely nonsensical phrase uttered by a skateboarder in a magazine interview, but has since been picked up by the skating community. It supposedly means that kind of karmic inner peace you find when you're skating, but was probably chosen as the title of this film because it sounded dynamic in an 80's sort of way.

Brian soon uncovers the real story behind Vinh's death (murdered to protect a secret shipment of weapons), but when the police choose not to listen to him, he starts a hate campaign against the killers by blowing up their property. Honestly, kids these days. It doesn't take long for the killers to track Brian down, but when you're trying to evade capture, a skateboard and a pair of durable gloves can go a long way.

Gleaming the Cube is actually a pretty good movie, and shares more than a few similarities with the junior gumshoe drama, Brick. Much like Joseph Gordon Levitt's character, Slater's Brian throws all concern about his own welfare out of the window in order to find justice. The adults are largely absent and useless beings, only coming in helpful when Brian needs to use them as pawns in his masterplan. There's some political messages about aid being sent back to Vietnam by Vinh's employer (a retired General), but it's a minor plot point against the real story of vengeance and brotherly love.

The skateboarding scenes are quite thrilling throughout, filmed as second unit by Stacey Peralta, one of the original Z-Boy skateboarders who would go on to become a director in his own right with Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants. The overall story of this film may get a little bogged down in details, but there's enough skateboarding action to keep you entertained.

It's unquestionably an 80's film with outdated fashion and skateboards, and a tacked on safety message that seems like a request from parental groups (how many skaters actually wear helmets? I know they should, but you don't see it often), but when Brian gets his gang of skate youths together and tools up for the final showdown, it leads to an impressively fast paced finale. In perhaps the ultimate irony, the world's most famous skateboarder, Tony Hawk, is the one driving the Pizza Hut truck.

It's interesting to see Christian Slater at such an early point in his career. This came out in 1989, the same year as Heathers, and actually took over double the amount at the box office. Gleaming the Cube may have been largely forgotten by those not in the skateboarding community, but you don't have to be a fan of skateboarding to enjoy this film. Slater shows of some of the charm that set him apart early on in his career, and although Brian's not as cool as J.D. in Heathers (who is?), he makes for a believable and interesting teen rebel.

Save from obscurity? YES.


  1. Frickin love this movie. It's too bad he can't actually skate, that would have made him the sexiest person on the planet.

  2. Why can’t I find the main villain blonde girl from this movie? She was definitely one of my first crushes as a preteen lol