Lords of Dogtown


“The skate scenes are seamlessly choreographed” – Tim Basham

Lords of Dogtown

Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Johnny Knoxville, Victor Rasuk

After seeing the terrific documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys”, my expectations for “Lords of Dogtown”weren’t very high. “Z-Boys” told the true story of how, in the 1970’s, skateboarding changed and exploded into the phenomena it still is today. So, how could a dramatized, and somewhat fictionalized, version of the story compare? But “Lords of Dogtown” is surprisingly an entertaining feature on the evolution of skateboarding shown through the eyes of those who transformed it—as long as you don’t expect too much.

Getting their name from the Venice Beach surf shop owned by Skip Engblom, the Z-Boys dramatically change the rules of the sport after discovering how polyurethane wheels can “grip” the pavement. The boys (and one girl) begin to create moves that soon give them legendary status. Engblom, who serves as their master, father figure and leader, capitalizes on the team’s success but doesn’t share the wealth. As egos grow, tempers flare and board stars Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) began to receive individual endorsement offers. As usual, when there’s success there’s money. And when’s there’s money there’s conflict.

Scriptwriter Peralta, who also wrote the documentary, teamed with “Thirteen” director Catherine Hardwick to create an exuberant and fun film as we watch the boys trespass into backyards with empty pools looking for the perfect slope for their aerobatic tricks with a seventies soundtrack booming in the background. The skate scenes are seamlessly choreographed with the actors actually doing much of the skating.

But what the film gains in mirth it loses during the team’s most difficult moments. We see Skip’s uneasiness as he loses his control over the boys. But it appears to be something he could have fixed by sharing the profits. We never learn why he doesn’t. And the animosity between the team’s stars never seems to reach any kind of dramatic climax, just hurt feelings and minor scuffles.

All the primary actors give steadfast performances. (Did anyone besides me think of a drunken Val Kilmer when watching Ledger?) But Emile Hirsch’s portrayal of the rebellious Adams was especially strong. As his single, hippie mom (Rebecca de Mornay) struggles to pay the rent, Adams struggles with his anti-establishment mentality. In one of the darkest and most humorous scenes an advertising executive corners Adams in his kitchen and implores him to sing the jingle for Slinky, the spring-like toy. Adams would love to have the money, but his personal form of integrity sabotages any pursuit of fame. Alva and Peralta have no such qualms about acquiring wealth and all three go their separate ways only to reunite, unexpectedly, for a special purpose.

Ironically, the dramatization of the true story fails to match the drama revealed in the original documentary. The answer to how the stories compare is a recommendation. See “Lords of Dogtown” first, then see “Dogtown and Z-Boys” for the rest of the story.

Rating :
Reviewer : Tim Basham