Dir: Catherine Hardwicke.US. 2005. 105mins.
Based on the same true story that spawned the effortlesslycharismatic 2002 documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys, director CatherineHardwicke's Lords Of Dogtown offers forth an entertaining but relativelyimpressionistic look at the sweaty, counter-cultural explosion of streetskateboarding that took place in the late 1970s on the crookedly tapered, blackasphalt waves of Southern California's run-down beach towns.
There's a pleasing surfeitof surly personality and easily enough skateboarding action to court favourablepublic reaction, particularly in the key teen and twentysomething demographics.But the film is not wholly able to communicate what was a central conceit ofits documentary predecessor, and indeed what makes Lords Of Dogtown sucha rich, opportunistic premise ' that without the run-wild imaginations of itsbarely-teenage protagonists, the entire "extreme" American and nowinternational subculture, from the X Games to nu-metal music, would likely havenot emerged.
Domestic box office, whereit opens on June 3, thus seems guaranteed a mid-range return, given thecompetent but unexplosive arc of its story. International returns innon-English speaking countries, meanwhile, figure to be slightly down-trending,given the movie's uniquely American setting and lack of international starpower.
A trio of arrestingperformances anchors Lords Of Dogtown. John Robison (Gus Van Sant's Elephant)stars as Stacy Peralta (who is also the film's writer), the quiet conscience ofthe group since his job gives him a modicum of real-world responsibility.Victor Rasuk (Raising Victor Vargas), as Tony Alva, and Emile Hirsch (TheGirl Next Door), as Jay Adams, are the two flashier wildcards. These three,along with Sid (Michael Angarano) and several other kids from fractured orotherwise marginalised working-class families, take up under the tutelage ofSkip Engblom (an enjoyably wonked-out Heath Ledger), the owner of ZephyrSurfboard Shop, a local hangout.
While surfing is dependanton the whims of the tides, the concrete of the rotting urban jungle providesconstant breaks and opportunity, something the so-called "Z-Boys" take to thenext level when they start to drain backyard swimming pools and skate theircrazy angles.
Eschewing the bland,unfailingly polite skateboard style of the day, Jay, Tony, Stacy and the Z-Boysdraw heavily upon the aesthetic of surfing for their low-riding techniques andaggressive cuts and turns.
As the rising popularity ofskateboarding collides with both surging adolescent hormones and big business,though, friendships are torn apart. Virtually one by one the Z-Boys leave theirprotective cocoon to ink lucrative corporate sponsorship deals (JohnnyKnoxville co-stars as the sleazier of several circling, capitalistic vultures)that scatter them across the globe on tours that fulfil their visions of an"endless summer" but leave relationships irreparably damaged in their wake.
While the acting is likeableand naturalistic ' full of rowdy, chiding overlap ' the film-making on displayin Lords Of Dogtown is colourful but at times rather sloppy, or at leastin need of considerable pruning and shaping. Hardwicke (Thirteen) againsucceeds in painting a robust setting, though her characters are at timesinscrutable. Elliot Davis' cinematography blends the pervasive atmospherics ofhis work on A Love Song For Bobby Long with the intimacy of his work on IAm Sam, and Chris Gorak's superlative production design convincinglyconveys a gritty, sun-baked milieu.
The movie doesn't skimp onthe skateboarding action either, as there are a great many music video-stylesequences and a real kinetic energy to the proceedings. Still, the pathos comesin fits and starts.
With his stoner patios andAnglican overbite, Ledger conjures up a slightly more bronzed but equallystrung-out vision of Val Kilmer's turn as Jim Morrison in The Doors.Though it's certainly not his story, the quiet heartbreak of Skip ' thesurrogate father figure for these broken-home kids ' is in watching him see notonly his visions of personal economic opportunity but also a sort of Lost Boystogetherness slip away.
Though its closing sequencewonderfully hints at this, Lords Of Dogtown could have used a littlemore of this type of melancholy and pain, as well as a starker sense of theZ-Boys as cultural forerunners.
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Rebecca De Mornay