Review: Lords of Dogtown

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  June 3, 2005 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

I have never understood the allure of skater culture. I guess for me it goes back to the 1970s when people were obsessed with "roller-derbies" and those roller-ball leagues. I also have never understood the captivation of ice-skating in the Olympics. I never understood any of it.

When it came down to my turn to review the film, Lords of Dogtown, I was a little out of my element. I couldn't relate to the fascination with the subject matter so I had to focus on the film itself and how it was brought together.

For those of you that don't know, Lords of Dogtown focuses on the rise of the skate-boarding culture in Venice, California in the 1970s.

The film follows three teenage skaters who became the legendary Z-Boys of the skating world. Each of the boys has his own unique story that gave birth to a culture, a movement, and eventually a multi-million dollar industry.

First off is Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), who dreams of taking away his dead-beat mother (Rebecca DeMornay) from the decrepit world she has become a part of. Jay is probably the most talented of his friends in skate-boarding but he also the most troubled.

Next off is Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), who feels like the outcast when their skating mentor Skip (Heath Ledger) passes him over in the selections for the boys skateboarding team.

Finally there is Tony Alva, who has aspirations of being wealthy and a status symbol, so he can climb out of the shadow of his old man who wishes he would get a real job and not become a loser. Tony's sister Kathy (Nikki Reed) becomes involved with both of Tony's friends Stacy and Jay.

Lords of Dogtown has a lot in common with thousands of biopics before it. The best way I can describe this vision of this story is that the film is told almost like a "rock star" biopic. And because it is told that way, I can understand the fascination, somewhat. It's like drooling over a guitar solo from Keith Richards, Slash, or Eddie Van Halen. Well, like I said, somewhat.

The performance that got to me the most throughout this film was Emile Hirsch. This kid is a goldmine of talent and he shows so many different images and ranges in his characterization of Jay. I love this kid and what he is capable of doing.

Then there was Val Kilmer who played Skip, the mentor to the kids. It was like someone grabbed the DVD of Oliver Stone's The Doors and surgically inserted Kilmer into this role. Oh, but I almost forgot, it's Heath Ledger who plays the role not Kilmer. Ledger has so emulated Kilmer in The Doors that he has his mannerisms, speech, and walk down to a science. If you can't find Kilmer, I guess you could always get Ledger. Could this be a career move for Ledger?

As a film, Lords of Dogtown will appeal to a lot of different people, but I found that the length and some of the minor characters bugged me. Since this is based on a true story, it's hard to really classify what is fact and what is performance. I had lots of problems with the characters of Tony's sister and Jay's mom. Some of their choices were never really evident to me and I felt that they needed more fleshing out for me to understand them.

Maybe if I appreciated the culture and understood what these guys were really about, then I could have gotten more into this film. But as a film, I have to say it's a pretty average biopic without some much-needed character development away from the three central characters. But maybe that's just me. (2.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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