Lords of Dogtown, an alternative buddy film for the guys, is "inspired by a true story" as well as by Stacy Peralta's documentary of a few years back, Dogtown and Z-Boys, detailing the exploits of the skateboarding pioneers of Venice, Ca., in the mid-Seventies. (Peralta, one of those pioneers himself, wrote the screenplay for this re-enactment, preserving the immortal line from the documentary, "We're gonna be on summer vacation for the next twenty years.") Here again, as in The Sisterhood..., we have a central quartet, teammates under the sponsorship of a surf-shop guru, split apart by the push-and-pull of competition and commercialism, but still bonded forever by the shared experience of honing their skills in the empty swimming pools of Southern California during a year of drought. True stories can be trite, too. The dramatization, needless to say, was not content to be a latter-day Frankie Avalon drive-in movie. It instead gives itself cinéma vérité airs. Catherine Hardwicke, the maker of Thirteen, was enlisted to direct (bringing along her star and creative collaborator on that one, Nikki Reed). And certainly the camerawork is often sloppy enough to pass as unplanned. And the dramatic scenes, so to call them, are underwritten and underformed in favor of a hectic climate of frolicking and carousing. The cast -- John Robinson, of Elephant, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, an almost unrecognizable Heath Ledger, a makeup-free Rebecca De Mornay -- does nothing to disrupt the pseudodocumentary illusion. (America Ferrera turns up here, too, in a bit-part as a bra-busting groupie.) Any rise in verisimilitude, however, comes with a commensurate rise in tedium.
Marilyn Agrelo's Mad Hot Ballroom is an actual documentary -- a classification no longer synonymous with a box-office hopeless -- on New York City fifth-graders who have been channeled into the stay-off-the-streets-and-stay-out-of-trouble activity of competitive ballroom dancing: "I see them turning into these ladies and gentlemen," one teacher manages to say while fighting back tears. We follow three disparate classes (only one of which will make it through to the citywide finals: "I still really don't understand what happened," a dejected curly top buttonholes the emcee at the quarterfinals, after his team falls three points short), and we follow them with an almost parental tunnel vision: we cannot really judge the competition; we have eyes only for "ours." Kids being kids, however, with no pumped-up heroes or villains (beyond a troublesome student named Jonathan, whose troubles go uninvestigated), this is an easy-to-like film with an easy-to-overlook fuzzy video image. That's just to say that there are more pressing occasions on which to lament the documentary norm nowadays of starting a film from a six-foot hole in the ground.