The dirt bike/four-wheeler documentary 12 O'Clock Boys follows Pug, a cute kid with braided hair and bright eyes. Pug has been crazy about animals for a long time, and his mother assumes he will someday become a veterinarian. But the little guy has become enamored with the groups of dirt bikers and four-wheelers that roar through the streets of Baltimore. The 13-year-old lives for the day when he can join the 12 O'Clock Boys, the most well-known group of Baltimore riders.
They are called 12 O'Clock Boys because when they pop an extreme wheelie, they end up vertical, like hands on a clock facing noon. They upset many of their fellow citizens, tearing illegally – and loudly – up and down the city streets. There have been numerous injuries and deaths due to stunts gone wrong and distracted drivers. To prevent other drivers and innocent bystanders from getting hurt, the police policy is to not chase the riders. Instead, they try to break up gatherings with siren bursts, while police helicopters film the riders from above.
The dirt bikers and four-wheelers are beloved by some. Their appearances on city streets bring noise, color and excitement to hum-drum neighborhood life. Their stunts are impressive. They're cool and their rebellious style is appealing. Hell, the 12 O'Clock Boys like to drive right in front of the main police station, messing with the minds of the officers who are forbidden to chase them. One of the riders says that groups like his are good alternatives for young people to the lives of crime and/or drug use that snatch many poor kids.
Director Lotfy Nathan offers a variety of opinions from talking heads, but mostly explores the scene by following young Pug over a three-year period. We meet him as an enthusiastic, self-assured kid living in a poor neighborhood with his siblings and his mother Coco, a former exotic dancer. Pug's dad is behind bars and his more down-to-earth older brother Tibba passes away from an asthma attack. The absence of positive male figures may play a part in Pug's attraction to the 12 O'Clock Boys.
Nathan doesn't spell that out. There are no scenes of Pug bonding with any particular member of the group. They speak kindly of him, but the sense you get is that they're lost boys, too; boasting about the growth of the group, savoring their positions as local legends, enjoying the rides and the attention that comes with them. What happens later, when the adrenaline rushes fade and the rebelliousness becomes routine? No one talks about that.
Instead we watch Pug get older. His presentation style becomes more abrasive. His mother learns he is skipping school a lot. During a gathering of riders on a sunny day, we watch Pug let a slightly older kid ride his dirt bike, only to have the teen steal it – despite that fact that the whole incident was filmed (oddly, Nathan blurs the face of the thief).
Lotfy Nathan's hand-held camerawork, combined with a snappy hip-hop soundtrack, gives the documentary a sense of immediacy. His super slow-mo shots of the dirt bikes and four-wheelers are impressive. I couldn't stop thinking about Pug, though. Will the flash of fame from the documentary make him even more determined to shuck everything in favor of being a local celebrity in the 12 O'Clock Boys? What's going to happen to the kid?