Lords of Dogtown(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 9.27.2005)
Fight Club's David Fincher was tapped to helm Lords of Dogtown before Venice Beach surfer Catherine Hardwicke made it her sophomore directorial effort after Thirteen. Despite the switch, the pic has the hardscrabble and filthy feel of the aforementioned Fincher film, with the principal difference being that Fight Club had office drones uniting in rage against the capitalist machine, while Dogtown tracks the rebel skateboarding pioneers that were divided and conquered by it. The similarities make sense as Hardwicke, a former production designer for Richard Linklater, Cameron Crowe, and David O. Russell relied upon Fight Club's Chris Gorak and Seth Reed to meticulously recreate the seaside slum of 1970s Venice Beach.
Dogtown partially fictionalizes the rise and fall of the Zephyr team (Z-Boys) after a drought and urethane wheels catalyze their shift from the surf to skateboards and emptied pools, and it's told with first-hand authenticity by screenwriter and original Z-Boy Stacy Perralta. The problem, though, is that Perralta already recounted these events in his top notch 2001 doc Dogtown and Z-Boys and, while this film partially peers behind the first film's veneer to show us what made the Z-Boys tick, this flick still feels a bit like a Z-Boys tribute album (much like Milos Forman's Andy Kaufman bipoic Man on the Moon).
That's not to say that the actors fail. Victor Rusak and John Robinson, who made their feature debuts in the cinema verite Raising Victor Vargas and Elephant respectively adapt well to their Z-Boy roles as the cocksure Tony Alva and the priggish Perralta. Emile Hirsch -- who has nailed the uptight straight man in movies such as the poignant The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys -- displays equal aplomb as the audacious Z-Boy Jay Adams.
Meanwhile, Heath Ledger gives a polarizing performance as he channels Val Kilmer in his method portrayal of the soused Skip Engblom, the Z-Boys "mentor." As castmember and comedian Mitch Hedberg (in his final role) might have said of Ledger's performance, "either you'll love it or you'll hate it...or you'll think it's OK."
What's clearer is that DJ Liza Richardson's period-appropriate classic rock soundtrack and original music by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh bring you back to the days of the eight-track. Meanwhile, Elliot Davis and Lance Mountain's use of Super 16, handheld, and lipstick digital cameras during the skating scenes provides vicarious thrills.
The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 and this unrated version is basically the PG-13 theatrical release with a bit raunchier language and a few extra minutes. While the film is a bit of an afterthought to Perralta's doc, the disc is worth it for the two commentary tracks. In one, Hardwicke, Rusak, Robinson, and Hirsch agreeably bounce ideas off each other, while Alva and Perralta share anecdotes on the other. There's a minimum of dead air on both tracks. The disc also has storyboard comparisons, a gag reel, some solid deleted/extended scenes, and a multitude of featurettes (the one dealing with Z-Boy cameos best fleshes out the Dogtown universe). -- Colin Miller