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Lords of Dogtown Review

By Shawn McKenzie 06/04/2005

Do you know what I think is the greatest skateboarding movie of all time?  1985’s Back to the Future is that movie.  Since the movie Lords of Dogtown doesn’t have any of the humor or time traveling of that movie, I didn’t enjoy it as much.  Kidding aside, I just wasn’t as into the movie, mainly because I’m not into skating.  Some truly great skate choreography and some decent acting performances save this movie from being completely uninteresting.

The movie does do a little time traveling, but not in the science fiction vein.  It starts in 1975 in Venice, California, known as Dogtown, a rundown area of Santa Monica, where the surfing and soon skating scenes are prominent.  Zephyr surf shop owner Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger) and his partner and fellow surfer Chino (Vincent Laresca) surf the treacherous morning waves of the Pacific Ocean Park Pier area of Venice Beach.  Once they get to surf the waves, others are allowed to join.  This includes friends Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), and Sid Gianetti (Michael Angarano.)  All four friends have different things going on in their lives, brought together by surfing (and again, soon skating.)  Jay lives with his drugged-out, ex-hippie mom Philaine (Rebecca De Mornay) and her boyfriend Donnie (William Mapother.)  Tony lives with his hot-blooded father (Julio Oscar Mechoso) and his sexually active sister Kathy (Nikki Reed), with whom he shares a bedroom for some odd reason.  Stacy is a longhaired blonde guy who is dating Kathy and is the only one of the friends who has a job, which ticks off the others, because they see having a job as selling out.  Sid is the shortest and most untalented of the bunch, and he has an inner-ear infection that affects his equilibrium.  Since they don’t always get a chance to surf, they substitute their activity fix with skating.  Skip notices their skills on their boards and gets an idea to promote his shop and sell his own skate gear.  He gives the boys a new set of urethane wheels for their boards, which allows them to grip the pavement better and moves them in a vertical direction.  He forms the Zephyr Skateboard Team, consisting of the local boarders, minus Stacy, whom he doesn’t consider enough of a “pirate.”  The team is nicknamed the Z-Boys, and they con their way into the Bahne-Cadillac Skateboard Championship.  They impress the audience with their skills that resemble surfing moves, but since they don’t follow the strict rules, they are disqualified.  Stacy competes independently and places second.  Skip soon decides to have Stacy join the team.  In the meantime, the boys take advantage of a severe drought by sneaking into the backyards of their neighbors’ houses and using their already empty swimming pools as skating ramps.  It starts out with just the four boys, but soon everyone comes from all around to watch them sharpen their cool new skateboarding skills, probably because their dangerous moves are exciting to witness.  The Z-Boys start getting famous with each competition they win, and they all start getting rock-star famous overall.  Topper Burks (Johnny Knoxville), a pimped-out rival promoter, lures Tony away and helps create Alva Skateboards.  Larry Gordon (Eddie Cahill), the owner of G & S Fibreflex Skateboards, courts Stacy, who turns him down at first, but after a fight with Jay over stealing Kathy away from him, he signs up with him.  Jay considers signing with Peter Darling (Ned Bellamy), an advertising executive, to promote Slinkys, but, even though he needs to take care of his mom, he declines.  Soon the boys are estranged from both Skip and each other, and it takes Sid to bring them all together, though for some not so rad reasons.

The movie is the dramatic version of the real Peralta’s 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys (Peralta also wrote the screenplay for this movie.)  That movie won many awards and festivals, and it has a big following amongst skaters.  Catherine Hardwicke, a skater herself, directed the movie.  She got some decent performances out of most of the cast, especially Ledger.  Skip is drunk (or appears drunk) throughout the movie, and he looks like a cross between Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison from the 1991 movie The Doors and Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow from 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  De Mornay has a small part, but she too appears stoned throughout (why do substance abuse problems lend themselves to fascinating acting performances?)  The boys themselves are great, and Hirsch’s performance is scary, especially when he shaves his head in a Nazi-style.

The skateboarding cinematography is impressive, even if you aren’t a skating fan.  They use point-of-view shots occasionally to allow the audience to follow the skaters as they skate.

Why was Lords of Dogtown not as appealing to me as it would be for others?  Well…like the documentary Dust to Glory from earlier this year, it just didn’t appeal to me because I’ve never been into any extreme sports, from surfing, to skating, to snowboarding, to racecar driving.  I can definitely see a large skater crowd being drawn to this movie and loving it, but I just wouldn’t be one of them.  Check it out though…you might find it gnarly.

Get the soundtrack featuring songs by Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rod Stewart, and more:

Get the Glen E. Friedman photography book showing pictures of the original Z-Boys:

Get the original documentary by Stacy Peralta that the movies is based on:

Buy these items at

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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