Sidewalk Surfing Is Cooler Than Ever

by Aaron on June 3, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Overall Lords of Dogtown is a lightweight, but thoroughly entertaining biopic, and one sorely overdue. By taking the videogames, ESPN coverage, and mainstream influence out of skateboarding, it’ll be no wonder if this film manages to inspire a whole new generation of kids out to claim the city streets for their own.

Lords of Dogtown
3 & 1/2 Stars

If any sport just cried out for a decent cinematic treatment, skateboarding would have to be at the top of that list. By its very design it’s urban, counter-culture, and practiced by the kind of die-hard outsiders that Hollywood seems to love. So how is it that to date each attempt has been uniformly awful? Maybe it’s because every previous skateboarder film has been the product of a craze-cashing studio with no real understanding of the sport’s allure and culture. Thankfully, former pro-skater and filmmaker Stacey Peralta has stepped up with director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) to deliver a love song to modern skate boarding’s origins with Lords of Dogtown.

Now that’s just cool

A semi-fictionalized retelling of the tale first show in Peralta’s documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys, The Lords of Dogtown focuses on the skating trifecta of the sports first icon Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), selfless promoter Stacey Peralta (John Robinson), and unbending purist Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) as they go from young surf punks to unlikely superstars amid the wreckage of Venice, California and their own lives. A nearly unrecognizable (and truly perfect) Heath Ledger plays Skip Engblom, the founder of the Zephyr Surf shop and the man who took a group of young kids heading nowhere and gave them the opportunity to make something of their lives and of their talent, only to be cast aside as their fame and fortune grew.

While the film conveys upon its characters a little more awareness of their immediate impact than they probably had, Lords of Dogtown has an excellent feel for its characters, and how their lives are changed by their talents and ambitions. The Z-Boys were kids who, above all else, just loved to skate and the three excellent leads never feel forced or contrived in their enthusiasm or relationships to each other. Hirsch is exceptionally good as Adams, the effortless master who can’t be bothered with the trappings and obligations of fame, and his life’s decline is a sharp contrast to how Alva and Peralta’s fortunes continued to rise.

The conflict and confusion these kids must have felt is a bit glossed over, indeed the whole film is a fairly breezy ride once the sponsors and accolades come to them, but the skateboarding is perfectly filmed with a mix of traditional and skate-video style camera work that perfectly captures the intensity and physicality of skateboarding. The Zephyr team was comprised of about 12 kids, so it’s a little disappointing that we’re not given any real opportunity to learn or care about the rest of the team, but thankfully Dogtown & Z-Boys fills in the rest of their sordid and storied history.

Overall Lords of Dogtown is a lightweight, but thoroughly entertaining biopic, and one sorely overdue. By taking the videogames, ESPN coverage, and mainstream influence out of skateboarding, it’ll be no wonder if this film manages to inspire a whole new generation of kids out to claim the city streets for their own.

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