Today's skateboarding culture owes much to Venice, California's Z-Boys, who brought surfing sensibilities to the streets in the 1970's. Having explored their rise already in a documentary, 2001's Dogtown and Z-Boys, original team member Stacy Peralta now gives them the biopic treatment in Lords of Dogtown, which reduces their true story to an excitingly staged but familiar series of Behind the Music clichés.
Peralta's script focuses on the core group of Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Peralta himself, played by John Robinson. The movie opens in 1975, when the heroes are just a pack of carousing teens fighting to prove themselves on Venice's crumbling Pacific Ocean Park pier. As they win the grudging respect of the beach's surfer dudes, they figure out how to adapt surf moves to turf via skateboardsa discovery that brings fame as well as big heads and bigger headaches.
The stereotype of skateboarders as vandals, trespassers and general miscreants is in no way challenged by the film. Under Peralta's too-loving gaze, it doesn't challenge much else, either. The film calls the Z-Boys "boy kings" and revels in their excesses; meanwhile, Peralta mysteriously comes off as the most idealized and hardworking of the crew. A composite charactera sickly kid drawn from a few real-life skatersserves mainly as a melodramatic plot device to reunite Tony, Stacy and Jay after the pressures of fame become too much.
Lords of Dogtown passed through several handsFred Durst was set to direct at one pointbefore falling to Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), who was originally the film's production designer. As director, she fares best with the plentiful skateboarding scenes, which use wheel-level POV shots and close-ups to evoke hanging ten in a concrete pool. But she relies too much on a veritable "Hits of the 70's" track list guaranteed to draw wispy feelings of nostalgia from baby boomers.
The young up-and-comers who play the Z-Boys capture the crew's camaraderie and bad-boy spiritespecially Heath Ledger as the perpetually drunk ringleader Skip Engblom, whose Zephyr surf shop gave the Boys their Z. And the in-jokey cameos will tickle fans, as when skateboard superstar Tony Hawk turns up long enough to fall off his board. (In one of those only-in-Hollywood flukes, Alva and Peralta serve as stunt doubles for the guys playing them.) Still, for the history of a very young and frequently misunderstood sport, stick with Dogtown and Z-Boyswhere Stacy Peralta told his story straight, and better.