Lords Of Dogtown screenwriter Stacy Peralta has followed a curiously career circular path. He rose to fame as a member of the legendary '70s Zephyr skateboarding team and became a pioneering skateboarding-video director in the '80s before making a big splash with Dogtown And Z-Boys, an adrenaline-charged 2001 documentary about, um, the legendary '70s Zephyr skateboarding team and Stacy Peralta.
Considering how much Peralta has devoted his film career to romanticizing his youth, it's tempting to conclude that his probably unconscious decision to make his younger self (played by Elephant's pretty, flaxen-haired John Robinson) easily the dullest of Lords Of Dogtown's leads is an act of contrition, or at least long-overdue humility. In one of the film's best scenes, Robinson/Peralta leaves a swinging party, whereupon his buddy (Emile Hirsch, playing bad-boy skateboarding icon Jay Adams) immediately woos his girlfriend with a deranged semi-primal mating dance. It's hard to blame her for going for it: What skateboarding groupie in her right mind wouldn't prefer Hirsch's dark, tormented genius over Robinson's blandly responsible stiff? Hirsch steals Robinson's girl, but he also steals the film with his coiled, method-actor intensity and almost-feral virility.
Directed by Thirteen's Catherine Hardwicke with an emphasis on speed and volume rather than character development, Lords Of Dogtown covers the rise and fall of a team that revolutionized competitive skateboarding with its sneering attitude, technical innovations, and hard-partying charisma. Alas, the film's utopia of young skate-studs being crassly exploited by the Zephyr skate shop's boozy proprietor (Heath Ledger, in a flashy character turn owing much to Val Kilmer in The Doors) begins to fall apart once stardom, girls, and big money enter the picture. Hirsch played the Tom Cruise role in the underrated Risky Business knockoff The Girl Next Door, so there's a perversely Oedipal undercurrent in Rebecca De Mornay's role as Hirsch's leather-skinned, party-girl mom. De Mornay delivers a poignant performance, and Ledger has his moments, but otherwise, Lords Of Dogtown's adults exist solely to present the boys with Faustian bargains, or to be shocked and offended by their extreme antics. Dogtown devotes its first half to the boys shocking the prudes and/or doing totally gnarly skateboarding tricks to K-Tel's Super-Loud Super Hits Of The '70s, so it's no surprise that when it ultimately tries to pluck at the heartstrings, it rings hollow. The film lives and dies by speed.