The Lords of Dogtown


             As if needed, there’s further proof that Hollywood is bereft of new ideas. Never mind that
     the studios continue to churn out remakes of movies, plunder television series for ideas, and rely
     on franchise tent poles (formerly known as sequels) to draw in crowds and/or earn big bucks, now
      they’ve started to really scrape the bottom. There’s a disturbing trend to turn Sundance award
     winning nonfiction movies into feature films. One of the best of the 1990s,
     
SOUTHERN COMFORT is in development as a fictional movie based on the documentary.
     Beating it to the theaters is
LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a fictionalization of the events covered in
     Stacy Peralta's
DOGTOWN AND Z BOYS (2001).

             Peralta has already made a second film that was sort of an outgrowth of that award winner,
     RIDING GIANTS (2004), which was short-listed for Academy Award consideration. Instead
     of making a documentary about skateboarders, he tackled another love of his – surfing. Now he’s
     turned his attentions to the events of the mid-1970s in Southern California when a confluence of
     events led to the reinvigoration of the somewhat staid “sport” of skateboarding. He and his
     comrades applied surfing moves to skateboarding, and buoyed by a public relations push,
     jump-started a craze that has since morphed into Xtreme Sports.

             This is all very interesting and Peralta covered much of the same ground in his documentary,
     so basing a fictional film on the same story smacks of desperation. In spite of the boom in nonfiction
     films in recent years (partly pioneered by him), Peralta appears to think that a teen audience
     cannot or will not be bothered to watch a documentary.

             Rather than direct the new film himself, he has entrusted his screenplay to former production
     designer turned director Catherine Hardwicke, who made something of a splash with her first
     feature about disaffected kids,
THIRTEEN. Occasionally, Hardwicke’s visual sense works well
     in some sequences (like when the gang sneaks into vacant homes and skateboard in the swimming
     pools) but she doesn’t seem to be able to relate to the actors whose work varies wildly. The result
     is a film that veers wildly in tone.

             The performances are a mixed bag, ranging from the hammy (Heath Ledger as a stoner) to
     the underwhelming (John Robinson as Peralta) to the spot-on (Victor Russak as Tony Alva and
     Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams). Hirsch, in particular, is wonderful as the “bad boy” of the sport, the
     one who refuses to sell out. His work is so grounded that he puts almost all the rest of the cast
     to shame. One of the other standouts is Michael Angarello as a wannabe skater whose illness
     takes a surprising turn.

             What is particularly surprising about the film is that the female characters suffer short shrift.
     Given that
THIRTEEN was so gyno-centric, perhaps Hardwicke wanted a change, or perhaps
     Peralta wasn’t that interested in the females. The one woman on the skateboarding team is virtually
     ignored in both the documentary and this film and the other major female characters are Adams’
     mother (a wan Rebecca De Mornay) and Alva’s bad girl sister (Nikki Reed in a variation of her
     role in
THIRTEEN).

             LORDS OF DOGTOWN is more a series of interrelated scenes rather than a cohesive
     drama, and its script leaves the cast and the director floundering. If you really have an interest
     in how skateboarding took off during the mid-1970s and the stories of some of the key figures
     in the sport, then go out and rent Peralta’s 2001 documentary or wait until you can rent both
     and watch them as a double feature.
  

                                     Rating:                        C-
                                     MPAA Rating:           PG-13 for drug and alcohol content, sexuality,
                                                                                     violence, language and reckless behavior
                                                                                      - all involving teens
                                     Running time:             107 mins.
     


                                                     Viewed at the Sony Screening Room
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.