|Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Starring: Heath Ledger, Victor Rasuk, Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Michael Angarano
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
There’s a story in “Lords of Dogtown” somewhere, and a compelling one at that. After all, Stacy Peralta, one of the movie’s protagonists, has already made an excellent documentary on the subject (2002’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys”). Peralta even wrote the script for “Lords of Dogtown” as well, so it would appear that the fictionalized version of their story is in good hands. And in spite of all this, the movie coasts when it should be soaring. It’s hard to believe that a story about the kids who revolutionized the world of skateboarding could be so tame.
Set in 1975, the story centers around three Venice Beach (AKA Dogtown) surfer kids from broken homes – the ambitious Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk, who’s a dead ringer for the real life Alva), the grounded Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) and the troubled Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) – who hang out at Zephyr’s, a surf shop run by Skip (Heath Ledger, channeling Phillip Seymour Hoffman on a bender), who is the sorriest excuse for a father figure one could ask for. Skip deals with skateboards, and the boys all ride them, but none of them takes skateboarding very seriously, until a guy (the late standup Mitch Hedberg, fast approaching Bill Hicks-like god status) comes into his shop with a new type of wheel that enables the kids to “climb walls.” Skip, smelling money, forms a team of skateboarders consisting of Tony, Jay, and a few other kids who hang out at the shop. Stacy was not asked to join the team, because he had a job. Skip found that distasteful.
The Zephyr team, later nicknamed the Z-Boys, performs well at their first competition (the scene of them skating to “Iron Man,” scaring the daylights out of their competitors, is a good one), and Stacy is invited into the group after entering the contest and holding his own against his buddies. The real stroke of genius comes when Alva brings the boys over the house of his on-vacation girlfriend, and they take advantage of the drought that California was suffering at the time by boarding in her empty pool. Pretty soon, a massive crew of kids is pool hopping all over Dogtown, but the real fun, and trouble, start when Tony, Jay and Stacy are featured in an article in “Skateboard” magazine. In an instant, they’re famous. Let the loss of innocence begin.
The setup is not unlike Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” Naïve kids create sensation, get corrupted by adult world, and eventually, lose their way. Unlike that movie, which was drunk on its love for the characters, nothing in “Lords of Dogtown” feels like it’s actually happening. There were scenes that had reached their natural end, yet still hung around like second hand smoke for five or ten more seconds. Granted, no one was expecting slick, whiz-bang direction from Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”), but there are moments where it feels like she is trying to suck all the fun out of the movie. The breakthrough moments – the first competition, their first time in the empty pool, the big party scene – are shockingly flat, with none of the elation that those moments undoubtedly had in real life. This is a movie about skateboard pioneers, drinking, drugs, and easy girls. It has built in, custom-made sex appeal, yet the execution of it is positively neutered.
“Lords of Dogtown” is the kind of movie that actually could have benefited from some of that studio polish that the filmmakers seemed hell bent on avoiding. The story is a good one, but a simple dose of adrenalin would have done a world of good. If you want to see something compelling, go rent “Dogtown and Z-Boys” instead, bro.
While the film itself may not have been a total success, the Unrated DVD release for "Lords of Dogtown" is pretty impressive. Along with two full-length audio commentaries (the first by director Hardwicke and the film's three stars, and the second with real life Z-Boys Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva), are six production featurettes, a 30-minute making-of documentary, and a handful of extended/deleted scenes. Also included on the single-disc release is a gag reel, storyboard comparisons, and a music video.