As most everybody knows by now, the streets of Dogtown--a lousy, rundown area between Santa Monica and Venice Beach--gave birth to modern skateboarding. More accurately, it was Dogtown's teenaged residents, the Z-Boys, who used urethane wheels and empty swimming pools to reinvent a sport.
The reason most everybody already knows about Dogtown and its Z-Boys is because there was already a pretty decent movie made about them--Stacy Peralta's 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Compiling old footage and new interviews from the most important of the Z-Boys--including Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Peralta himself--Z-Boys was a fast-paced, sure-footed introduction to the origins of modern skateboarding.
Lords of Dogtown, the mass-marketed dramatization of the Z-Boys' story, isn't a bad film so much as an unnecessary one. Catherine Hardwicke's direction is smart and fast, and nearly the entire cast is believable and likable--there's the earnest John Robinson (playing Peralta), the heartfelt Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams, and an appropriately egotistical Victor Rasuk as Tony Alva. (Better still is a surprisingly good Heath Ledger, playing the local skateshop owner.) Even the Peralta-penned script is fairly solid, if a bit too pro-Peralta to be wholly plausible.
No, it's the weird tone of Dogtown that seems so off: Sure, the human elements of the Z-Boys' story get room to breathe, but there's no new viewpoint added to the Z-Boys mythos; Dogtown just feels like a retread of the documentary, and one written as if it were a tween-targeted pilot for the WB.
Perhaps Dogtown leaves such a sour aftertaste because, at its core, the Z-Boys' story is one of astonishing kids and an astonishing sport being unraveled by outside interests. For all its efforts to tell the underground story of the Z-Boys, Dogtown can't shake the fact that it's produced by the megalithic Sony Pictures and that it kowtows to the very commercial interests that tore the Z-Boys apart.