Lords of Dogtown (2005) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for drug content, teen drinking, sexuality, some violence, and language
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Heath Ledger, Rebecca De Mornay, Michael Angarano, Nikki Reed, William Mapother, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Johnny Knoxville, America Ferrara, Sofia Vergara, Tony Hawk (cameo), Stacy Peralta (cameo), Charles Napier (cameo), Tony Alva (cameo), Jay Adams (cameo)
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenplay: Stacy Peralta
Review published June 5, 2005

Stacy Peralta's (Riding Giants) 2001 documentary covering the same subject, Dogtown and Z-Boys, is about the best treatment anyone could have expected about the modest story regarding how some lower class punk street kids would revolutionize the skateboarding industry with their never before seen styles and stunts.  Peralta's style was exceedingly entertaining, introducing him as a filmmaker to keep an eye on in the future.  I'm not really sure what possessed Peralta to revisit the exact same subject matter in the fictionalized recreation of the events of his documentary, but it seems a bit premature, superfluous, and by comparison, its not really as interesting.  That's not to say that Lords of Dogtown doesn't have its merits.  It's just that there is almost nothing in this Hollywood version that isn't touched on in more interesting ways in Dogtown and Z-Boys.

In the mid-1970s, in the community of Dogtown -- Venice, California -- a group of young wanna-be surfers find they are being excluded from the local surfing spots.  It's a boring existence, without much to do except get into trouble, but they to find some thrills "surfing" the pavement of the city on their skateboards.  When they are introduced to urethane wheels, a whole new way of skating opens up to them, with better handling of the boards and more ability to grip surfaces, letting them do stunts that were previously unthinkable on their metal wheels.  The extreme droughts in California caused many residences to have to drain their swimming pools, and while the boys were barred from surfing the waves of the ocean on surfboards, they found similar thrills surfing the wavelike arcs found in the swimming pools they would trespass into.  These boys were like a family, and with the help of svengali board manufacturer Skip (Ledger, A Knight's Tale), they enter and begin winning contests around the country.

Peralta would only write the screenplay, and obviously he knows the history and characters well enough for us to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of accuracy.  However, that doesn't keep Hollywood moments from creeping in now and then, with lots of soap opera antics and fisticuffs that would seem injected in order to make the tale of these boys more cohesive in terms of story development, resulting in a forced climax and epilogue that probably comes more out of fantasyland than out of the recollections of a documentarian. 

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who scored with another film portrayal of troubled youth in Thirteen, the look and sounds of the 1970s are accurately recreated, even if some of the costumes look like they are more suited for Halloween than the actual mid-1970s.  It's all hazy, out of focus, and a bit shaky, but it works. 

While Lords of Dogtown represents and interesting look into a time where youths of the streets created a new art form out of nothing but a toy, the tale still lacks the weightiness in theme and worthiness in importance to make for a truly compelling two hours of movie to go out of one's way for.  Skateboarding aficionados will no doubt find the most to like here, as well as those who enjoy slice of life films about the 1970s, but everyone else is perhaps better off sticking strictly to the aforementioned Dogtown and Z-Boys to understand just what makes Peralta's story worthwhile.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo