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Lords of Dogtown
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film includes teen smoking, drinking, drug use, foul language, sexual activity, and violence. The heroes are 1970s California rebels who essentially invent freestyle skateboarding, then confront a barrage of commercial contracts and crass promoters, instant celebrity, high stakes competitions, and insecurities among themselves. Some of the kids also deal with money problems at home, single and absent parents, and romantic pressures. One skater learns late that he's suffering from brain cancer, and his post-surgery appearance, surely gallant, may also be distressing for younger viewers.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
LORDS OF DOGTOWN focuses on three wannabe Venice Beach surfers turned champion skaters -- Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Peralta (John Robinson), and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) -- as well as their initial mentor, scruffy Zephyr team founder Skip (Heath Ledger). The virtuoso skaters are laying the foundations for Tony Hawk, video games, and the X Games. Their visions of how they might leave lasting impressions differ. Skip plays loud music (Hendrix is a favorite), puts the team through tough paces on their boards, and even provides them with a vague sense of belonging when he gives them matching t-shirts. As the boys face their suddenly burgeoning fame (pretty girls in shorts, all-night parties, televised competitions, and endorsements), greed is incarnated by opportunistic promoter Topper (Johnny Knoxville pimped out to resemble Kid Rock). Jay is especially torn, as he wants to support his weary working mom (Rebecca De Mornay), but really doesn't want to have to sing the "Slinky" song to make money.
Is it any good?
Poised to be great, fast fun, this movie is too often slowed by clichés. The most thrilling moments in Lords of Dogtown feature skateboard wheels. More precisely, cameras mounted on and even under skateboards, so that the whirring of wheels, slamming over pavement, and hurtling headlong into air seem immediate and vital. But aside from this stunty camerawork, Catherine Hardwicke's second feature (her first was the affecting Thirteen) tells a conventional story. Based on the real life adventures of the same skaters at the center of writer Stacy Peralta's documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, in turn based on a 1999 Spin article and Peralta's own skateboarding experiences, the fictionalized film is less about cultural resistance and wild riding in empty swimming pools than about capitulation.
The movie's most compelling question is unresolvable, as in itself it replicates the problem of selling out, by further exploiting the success of Peralta's documentary. Skip, of all people, ends up looking like the heroic holdout, broke but determined to stay true to his vision -- always ready to surf, never overwhelmed by career.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many ways that kids can rebel against authority and convention and what does and doesn't appeal to them about skater culture. Families can talk about what is and isn't compelling about rebellion. How does the movie alternately celebrate and question the main characters' choices? What does selling out mean to kids? And what are kids willing to sacrifice either to make money or follow their dreams?
- In theaters: June 3, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: September 27, 2005
- Cast: Emile Hirsch, Heath Ledger, Rebecca DeMornay
- Director: Catherine Hardwicke
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: drug and alcohol content, sexuality, violence, language and reckless behavior - all involving teens