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by Willie Waffle

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Lords of Dogtown

I swear I should start a blog about all of my weird experiences while trying to review movies. It probably would be more interesting than the reviews themselves. While seeing Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants a few weeks ago, the film freaked out and melted to the projector lens (just like you see in old movies), but the theater's audio system inexplicably was pumping in the sounds of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King while they fixed the film (that's what I get for leaving the safe cocoon of the movie critics' screenings room and buying a ticket to a sneak preview with the regular folks). While seeing Kate and Leopold a few years ago, the cineplex's popcorn machine caught on fire, which filled the theater with the smell of burnt popcorn and plenty of smoke. And, to get us back on the subject of this film, while watching Lords of Dogtown, our audience was treated to an impromptu skateboarding demonstration when one of the idiot skatefreaks at the film decided to skate back and forth in front of the screen (thankfully stopped by the studio's publicity rep, who refrained from killing the young boy despite the desires of the audience to do so). I just wish the movie was as interesting as the skateboarder saga.

Set in Venice, California, Lords of Dogtown is the maybe, kinda, sort of true story about the group of skateboarders who made the activity famous in the late 70's, and took part in founding the massive business of skateboarding (the movie says this story is "inspired by" the real events, which sounds like someone wants to avoid getting sued). Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) are three teens kids who don't have much to do all day long, but surf and skate. They spend most of their time hanging around the owner of a local surf shop, Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), who quickly realizes he can make some money selling skateboarding gear by showcasing these kids and their pals in local tournaments.

Soon, success, fame and fortune are at their doorstep, but who can handle it? Who will get more than the others? Who can't handle it at all?

Every time you think director Catherine Hardwicke is about to focus on the story, here comes another skateboarding scene. After the 5th one, I got it. They were good. Whoopee. It results in a movie short on dialogue and story, but long on skateboarding scenes. Very long on skateboarding scenes, as if the story wasn't all that important, or you have to know the story and characters heading in to get the full impact of the film.

From time to time, Hardwicke hints at a possible love triangle, trouble the kids have with their parents and the odd hierarchy among the surfers and skaters, but all of it is pushed aside for more skateboarding scenes. Without the needed depth of story presented to those who don't know it, all of these supposed anti-heroes thumbing their noses at authority are more like rebels without clue not striving for a better life, but trying to maintain a lifestyle of hedonism. Does trying to be an irresponsible teenager your whole life make you into hero? Hardwicke and writer Stacy Peralta (yep, THE Stacy Peralta who makes himself look much better in the movie than his cohorts) show us some glimpses of the sad side of trying to maintain that lifestyle, but never show us the motivation of the successful characters. Is it for a higher purpose, or just the money? It's too hard to tell, and that's the movie's failing.

However, not all is lost. Hardwicke and Peralta do a good job showing the growing resentments and fissures between the competing young men, but don't get deep enough into what is happening in their lives. Stacy starts off the movie as a good kid with a great work ethic, but we never see how this effects his ultimate outcome (you'd think Peralta could tell us, he knows better than anyone). We learn about the strife between Tony Alva and his father, but it's not more than a passing mention, and, after seeing the behavior of the Alvas, you can't help but think Daddy Alva is in the right. Meanwhile, the most fleshed out part of the story is Jay Adams' difficulties with his mother (Rebecca De Mornay), but even this subplot comes up short of what we need to get a full picture of him and his problems.

Luckily, the acting is solid, even if the script isn't. Robinson as Stacy Peralta makes for a decent hero and evokes the most respect and concern from the audience, while Rasuk excels at showing Tony Alva's injured ego and ambition. Shockingly, Ledger delivers the best (but weirdest) performance. As the stoner surf shop owner/entrepreneur, he creates a character who appears to be over-the-top and cartoonish, but it works. He's supposed to be a stoner surfer in Southern California, so it's believable.

Lords of Dogtown feels like it could have been a good movie, but fails to be very good or great.

1 ½ Waffles (Out Of 4)

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