(PG-13) 3 1/2 stars
Dogtown and Z-Boys is not only one of the coolest documentaries you"ll see this year - it"s also hands-down the best action movie of the summer. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the Zephyr skate team, a rag-tag group of street kids from the rough L.A. beachfront neighborhood known as Dogtown. Narrated by Sean Penn and directed by Stacy Peralta, one of the most successful pro skaters of all time, Dogtown traces the 1970s evolution of skateboarding from a goofy aprËs-surf activity to a gravity-defying, hugely popular sport. As one of the original Z-Boys, Peralta had unlimited access to the subjects of the film: his fellow teammates, and their mentors, the surfboard craftsmen of the Zephyr surf shop who coached the Z-Boys (and lone Z-girl) to international fame. The story begins with the opening of the Zephyr shop, whose graffiti-adorned surfboards were ridden by gangs of young, kamikaze surfers. The surfers turned to skateboarding when the waves died down in the afternoons, and after the invention of polyurethane skateboard wheels in 1972, the daredevil surfers began to translate their unorthodox wave-riding style to concrete; as one Z-Boy put it, "surfing the asphalt waves."
The worst drought in California history soon forced many upscale L.A. homes to drain their swimming pools, inadvertently creating the spaces in which the Z-Boys took skateboarding to new heights - literally. The radical technique of vertical skating quickly brought national attention to the sport, and led to unforeseen fame and wealth for the Z-Boys lucky enough to score lucrative endorsement contracts.
Peralta tells the story through the usual documentary elements: talking head shots of the adult Z-Boys, interspersed with a barrage of breath-taking archival film footage and the artful still photographs of Craig Stecyk, the first journalist to cover the Z-Boys in action. A great "70s rock soundtrack including Bowie, Iggy and Zeppelin ratchets up the film"s energy still further, but the true story here is not in the words and music, but in the pictures.
At times, Peralta"s close proximity to his subject renders him a little myopic. Watching Dogtown, you get the impression that these 12 kids single-handedly invented skateboarding as we know it, which of course is not the case. We also don"t see many injuries or infighting, of which there were plenty. What comes through loud and clear is the cheerful, youthful nihilism of the Z-Boys as they rewrote the rules of what was physically possible, and reinvented cool along the way. Not solely a film for skaters, Dogtown and Z-Boys will thrill counter-cultural history buffs and adrenaline freaks alike. Playing only through Thursday at Key Cinemas.