When I was but a young lad I tried my hand at skateboarding. In the early 2000s, if you weren’t skating whilst listening to LA punk bands, you would be horsewhipped (it was the law or something). Anyway I tried my hand at it, and being of a slightly rotund build, I found myself ending up on the floor more often than not. So I did what any good little noughties teenager would do when they’re not immediately successful at something – I sulked off to my room and changed the punk for Nu-metal. But I always wondered what would have happened if I gave it another shot.
Lords of Dogtown , out now on Blu Ray and DVD, gives us a glimpse of what it would be like to be a professional skater.
And the result? A jawbreaking yawn.
Lords of Dogtown is based on the true story of the Z-Boys, a surf team turned skateboarding group from the run-down Pacific Ocean Park area of Venice Beach. Set in the seventies viewed through a 2000s lens, we see the Z-boys hang out at the Zephyr surfboard shop owned by Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger). When Skip is given polyurethane wheels he builds skateboards for his crew, which includes Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). The polyurethane wheels give them an advantage in performance and despite Skip’s misgivings about Stacy, what with him having a job, the boys becomes some of the top skateboarders on the scene. With a major drought draining pools all across Southern California, the Z-boys break into the homes of upper class residents to use their empty pools for skating. As the boys skate more for money than for passion, the group begins to come undone: Tony is poached by a bigger skate team, Jay sells out to help pay his mother’s rent before falling in with a gang and Stacy becomes an international star. Unable to keep the team together, Skip sells the Zephyr and the Pacific Ocean Park pier, and the sight of their surfing days burns down.
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Skip is a master performance of chaotic surfer dude and underground icon. I want to get that out of the way right now and underline the fact that Heath Ledger was great in this movie and could have easily carried the whole thing.
Thing is, it isn’t about him and I could hardly tell any of the three main Z-boys apart throughout the course of the movie. Their personalities all fused together until the third act when we got some semblance of individuality in their characters. Each has a background motivation – Tony doesn’t want to make the same mistakes he thinks his father did, Jay wants to provide for his burnt out mother and Stacy wants to do something with his life. But this all comes to nothing as they begin the 107 minute task of morphing into patio furniture. Lacking character, they become little more than robots going through the motions in an attempt to understand the human concept of compassion or some such thing.
Wooden performances are everywhere whilst Lords tries to decide what type of movie it is. Sporting Biopic, wait no – now it’s a Coming of Age story, as the Z-boys try to find themselves…oh hold on, now it’s a Rise and Fall what with Johnny Knoxville playing Kid Rock playing a Skateboard Company owner that tempts the boys away with the promise of…money…I think? Like I said, it gets confusing as it tries to be more and more, becoming too stretched and thin until it’s nothing at all. Shallow and two dimensional; the film provides nothing to anything.
That said, it has two things going for it. First, the soundtrack is one of those perfect ones that comes along every few years, with hits from Black Sabbath, David Bowie, T-Rex, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Stooges. I could happily rewatch Lords for its soundtrack alone. The next saving grace is the cinematography. In order to capture the free spirit and chaos of 70s’ skateboarding, it’s filmed in a grungy documentary style with 16mm film grain overlay, crash-zooms and spin-pans. Shots and scenes are framed to open the action from static points.
Its stylishness and great score, however, can’t save this film from its shallow plot and acting. Even if you’re into skateboarding, I wouldn’t recommend it. Do yourself a favour and rent Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001), the award winning documentary on the 1970’s California skateboarding scene, and see the real life version of the mauled characters in Lords.
Dir: Catherine Hardwick
Scr: Stacy Peralta
Cast: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk, Michael Angarano
Prd: John Linson
DOP: Elliot Davis
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Runtime: 107 minutes
Lords of Dogtown is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.