The story of the legendary Z-Boys is chronicled in this really well made biopic from director Catherine Hardwicke. The performances of the lead actors drive the film into making this an underrated gem of a film.
In 1975, best friends and surfers Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, and Tony Alva learn that their “mentor” Skip Engblom has decided to form a skateboard team with the same name of his shop, Zephyr. At first, Stacy’s regular everyman attitude leaves him out of the team. However, when Tony sticks up for his friend at a skateboard competition, Skip realizes the loyalty Stacy has earned and he eventually joins the team.
Soon, fame begins to soar for the trio of friends. Their names and the name Zephyr becomes synonymous with skateboarding. However, as their fame starts to rise, egos begin to get the best of the friends. Jay, one who has never bowed to anyone, becomes more rebellious. Tony begins to become ego-driven and money-hungry, resulting in a partnership with a rival of Skip’s. While Tony forms his own company, Stacy defects as well, joining a rival company. As the trio go from being best friends to rivals on the field, it takes the heart of a friend of theirs to ultimately bring them back together.
In 2001, real-life Z-boy Stacy Peralta directed the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. The documentary focused on the more popular days of skateboarding in the mid to late 1970’s. Peralta’s very informative and historical point of view, with the help of his friends and former Z-boys, would be the main influence for this very film. Peralta himself wrote the screenplay and found a director in Catherine Hardwicke, whose style of filmmaking was noted in the teen drama Thirteen (2003). Hardwicke brings a documentary-like feel to the film using handheld cameras at time. This brand of filmmaking is reminiscent to some of Hong Kong director Andrew Lau’s work in the Young and Dangerous series of films.
The cast playing the three top Z-Boys are truly at the top of their game. Emile Hirsch, who would later play the titular character of Speed Racer (2008), is terrific as Jay Adams. As Adams, Hirsch brings Adams’ nature of rebellion and angst on the screens to a tee. He even shaved his own head for the third act of the film. As Stacy Peralta, John Robinson brings innocence to the role. Peralta is seen as someone who tries to fit in despite having to hold a job down. However, he does have a passion for skateboarding and hopes to get his name out there. In the role of Tony Alva, Victor Rasuk brings the ego-trip persona to the role perfectly. While Alva wants to be the best, he does show disappointment when he doesn’t get first but thrives to get the attention any way possible.
The late Heath Ledger brings in an excellent performance as Zephyr co-founder Stip Engblom. Engblom is seen as your typical surfer mentor type. He can be cocky and arrogant one minute, but he is truly a friend when need be. While the character of co-founder Craig Stecyk is in the film, a noteworthy difference between fantasy and real-life is that the character of the cocky and brash Chico, played by Vincent Laresca, looks to be based off real-life co-founder Jeff Ho. It is only anyone’s guess why Jeff Ho himself wasn’t a character. Surprisingly, Michael Angarano pulls in a comic relief performance as Sid, a young skateboarder who has been friends with the Z-Boys and it is him that ultimately brings them together in a bold move.
There are cameos from the three Z-Boy legends themselves as well as other skateboard legends. Jay Adams is seen as a partygoer. Stacy Peralta is a TV director, directing his on-screen persona on an episode of Charlie’s Angels. Tony Alva plays a partygoer from Oregon. Tony Hawk, Peralta’s protégé and the most popular skateboarder today, plays an astronaut. Lance Mountain plays a police officer. Bob Biniak, a former Z-Boy himself, can be seen in a comical scene as a restaurant manager who warns the group not to cause trouble.
The skateboarding sequences themselves are well done and well shot. Having worked in the industry for years as a skateboard stunt coordinator, Peralta, with Hardwicke’s direction and the cinematography of Eliot Davis, brings that vintage feel of good ol’ sidewalk surfing. The pool sequences, shot with the background music of Deep Purple, seem to have a music video feel of it and could be used as quite the promo itself for the film as a whole.
In conclusion, while it is a fictional account of the Z-Boys legend, Lords of Dogtown has that documentary-like feel combined with energetic performances from the cast as well as some of the best skateboarding sequences caught on celluloid.
WFG RATING: A
Columbia Pictures present a Linson Films production in association with Indelible Pictures and Senator International. Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Producer: John Linson. Writer: Stacy Peralta. Cinematography: Elliott Davis. Editing: Nancy Richardson.
Cast: John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Heath Ledger, Pablo Schreiber, Vincent Laresca, Michael Angarano, Elden Henson, Rebecca De Mornay, William Mapother, Nikki Reed, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Don Nguyen, Stephanie Limb, Cheyne Magnusson, America Ferrera.