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"Lords of Dogtown" Movie Review

Hollywood Needs to Learn When to Leave Well Enough Alone


Emile Hirsch John Robinson Victor Rasuk

Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, and Victor Rasuk in "Lords of Dogtown"

© Sony Pictures
If “Lords of Dogtown,” the Hollywood movie not the documentary, truly represents what Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and the rest of Z-Boys experienced while turning the sport of skateboarding on its head, then it’s a wonder anyone ever wanted to pick up a board and follow their lead. “Lords of Dogtown” makes the sport seem about as much fun as having your toenails ripped off one by one.

Granted, the Z-Boys (the group of skaters chosen to represent the Zephyr Surf Shop) came from a rough neighborhood, didn’t have the best home lives, and had to reinvent the sport of skateboarding against the wishes of established skaters and their sponsors. And it’s a given that back in the days before the X-Games, skateboarders weren’t exactly held in high regard. But there’s such a lack of fun, of freedom, of enthusiasm for the sport in this version of their story, that it’s not in the least bit apparent from watching the film why any of these guys ever wanted to get out and ride in the first place.

The “Lords of Dogtown” documentary was insightful and riveting and featured the real guys who helped propel skateboarding to its current level. The real Z-Boys appeared to be much more charismatic and intriguing in the documentary than do the actors who portray them in this feature film supposedly based on their lives. Nothing has been gained by filling the parts of Peralta, Tony Alva, et al with actors who can’t skate and who appear to be posing rather than acting. Which begs the question: why make a feature film based on the Z-Boys when the award-winning documentary supplied the audience with everything anyone could possibly have ever wanted to know about that particular time in the history of skateboarding? If the story can’t be told better or expanded upon, then why even go there?

It feels as though this movie is a vanity project for writer Stacy Peralta, or at least that’s how it appears by the time the credits roll. Peralta is the only one of the group that doesn’t come off looking like a total jerk. The blonde-haired pretty boy whose halo is almost visible in some scenes is the only one of the Z-Boys who seems to have a heart and soul. Alva is made to look like the biggest jerk who ever participated in a sport and Adams contribution to the sport is minimalized in favor of giving screen time to Alva’s sister Kathy (played by Nikki Reed) and her romantic entanglements within the group.

While director Catherine Hardwicke gets the tone of the decade right – the 70s do come alive under her direction – it seems the narrative story suffers as a result. Too little actual skateboarding is shown, characters do things to piss each other off without rhyme or reason, and the dynamic of the group of Z-Boys just doesn’t work as the audience is never let in on the secret as to what makes these guys so special.

As for the acting, I am not the first and will definitely not be the last person to say Heath Ledger is trying to out ‘Val Kilmer’ Val Kilmer as Skip, the Zephyr Surf Shop guy who (according to this version of the story) puts the team together. I remember leaning over to a critic sitting next to me during the screening and asking if Kilmer gave Ledger permission to steal his act. It’s a third-rate attempt at best. The material doesn't mesh with the actor chosen to fill the role and the result is Ledger doing his best Kilmer imitation, and that gets old really, really fast.

Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams, John Robinson as Stacy Peralta, and Victor Rasuk as Tony Alva aren’t bad but they seem a little lost as to the point of the story they’re trying to tell. Fast cuts and shots of lower torsos on down allow them to look the part of cutting edge (at that time) skaters. But they never inhabit these roles. I stand by my previous assessment that they seem to be posing rather than acting.

Fans of the sport or fans of the documentary will more than likely be disappointed in this lame attempt at bringing the Z-Boys story to life via actors. I sat through the screening with a group of old skaters and college kids who knew the names and understood the role the Z-Boys played in promoting skateboarding. They began the movie by cheering anytime one of the skaters came on the screen and grew quieter as the film progressed. Ultimately the vast majority of the audience members left the movie disappointed in the product Hollywood is trying to pass off as based on true events. It didn’t play well to the audience who should have best received the film and that doesn’t bode well for how casual fans of the sport will enjoy the movie.


"Lords of Dogtown" was directed by Catherine Hardwicke and is rated PG-13 for drug and alcohol content, sexuality, violence, language and reckless behavior - all involving teens.

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