Lords of Dogtown (7/10)

by Tony Medley

For the 30 years I’ve lived in the Venice Beach-Marina del Rey area I’ve been seeing the same guy. He’s a teenager with long blond hair and he wears baggy shorts and he rides a skateboard. He rides it on the sidewalk and he rides it fast and he cuts in and out around the pedestrians. As near as I can determine, he’s universally disliked. And as near as I can determine, he doesn’t care.

This is a movie about that guy. And his two friends. Their names are Stacey Peralta (John Robinson) and Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). Written by Peralta and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, this is a dead on biography of the guys who turned skateboarding into a big time sport.

Hardwicke, who is a surfer and grew up in Venice, has faithfully recreated the Venice Beach area of three decades ago, including the long lamented Pacific Ocean Park (POP) pier, which was abandoned in 1967 and left to rot before it burned down around ten years later. But even better, they’ve recreated the characters of the three boys responsible. They were selfish, inconsiderate, troubled teenagers. And they were influenced and helped by the alcoholic Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), who co-owned the Zephyr Shop, where surf boards were made in Venice.

Frankly, these guys rubbed me the wrong way, so destructive and inconsiderate were they. But I was seated next to a 16-year old girl and I asked her if she liked it. “Yeah,” she said. “Do you?” After it was over I asked her if she thought it was going to be a hit and she said, “Yes!” Then I asked her if she skateboarded and she said, “No, but I like guys who do!” That’s all I needed to hear to come to the conclusion that this should be a hit among the demographically important 16-25 set.

Even though I didn’t much like the boys themselves and their actions, like sneaking into people’s backyards and skateboarding in their empty swimming pools, I did think that the movie captured their characters perfectly. Unlike most movie biographies, this doesn’t soft pedal the protagonists. Instead, it pictures them as they probably were, although Peralta comes across as so squeaky clean he’s hard to accept. This isn’t too surprising, considering that he not only wrote the script, it was based on a documentary he produced in 2002, called “Dogtown and Z-boys,” which won him the Audience and Director’s Awards for documentary film at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Documentary at the AFI Film Festival.

Because the action takes place during a terrible drought, many Angelenos had drained their pools. This gave the Z-Boys their opportunity to practice on the new-fangled urethane wheels, which allowed the skateboard to grip much firmer and go up sheer walls.

All the actors are good, but Hirsch, as Jay Adams, and Ledger, as Skip, are exceptional. This is an entertaining, atmospheric, and educational biopic.

May 31, 2005