A companion piece to Stacy Peralta's stunning 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, Lords of Dogtown attempts to expand on the mythology surrounding the early years of the Southern California skate culture. Instead, it wipes out under the weight of its good intentions.
Told episodically, the film details the rise and fall of the Zephyr Skate Team, a rough-and-ready assemblage of daredevils who, with the help of the urethane wheel, elevated the skateboard from child's toy to cultural phenomenon.
The film stars John Robinson, Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk, as Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams and Tony Alva, the team's talented core, and Heath Ledger as the perpetually stoned surf-and-skate Svengali, Skip Engblom. The actors, however, never seem to fully inhabit the characters. The complexity of human emotion and the facets of the young skaters' ever-evolving relationships are simplified, distilled into a series of archetypes. They become little more than two-dimensional figures in the confusing swirl of melodramatic confrontations that clouds the film's impressive skate scenes.
When Dogtown retires to the dry gulches and empty pools of a drought-stricken Los Angeles, the film finds its footing. Re-creating the beat-down beauty of Venice Beach in the mid-1970s, the sequences of young men finding a perpetual summer paradise riding the hard concrete that personifies their environment are shot with an astonishing sense of freedom and grit.
That is not enough to save the movie, though, and perhaps too faithfully echoes similar footage found in Dogtown and Z-Boys. Z-Boys is a perpetual burden for Lords of Dogtown. It weighs the film down with too much baggage, with confusing questions of truth versus dramatization, of fact versus fiction. Tone, it seems, can't help but get in the way of truth, and Lords of Dogtown never quite manages to take off as a result.
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Title: Lords of Dogtown (Columbia Tristar Home Video; $28.95)
DVD EXTRAS: The most interesting part of the package involves the interviews with the actual skaters and their responses to seeing their stories sort of told on screen. What's missing is much of the nuts-and-bolts information regarding how the skate scenes were shot.the verdict: * * out of * * * * *