Judge Joel Pearce and his crew call themselves Sofa Dogz.
Make your own reality!
The skater scene has changed dramatically in the past few years, and Deck Dogz isn't sure which side of the fence it's on. It sweeps us up into a world of wild counterculture, only to suddenly dump us smack in the middle of a generic, feel-good sports movie. There isn't even much here for serious skaters, which is a shame considering its endorsement by the world's most popular pro skater.
Facts of the Case
"Spasm" (Sean Kennedy, Kick), "Poker" (Richard Wilson, The Proposition), and "Blue Flame" (Ho Thi Lu) are the deck dogz, a trio of daring teenage skaters in suburban Australia. While the other two are so-so skaters, Spasm has a shot at hitting the big time. Unfortunately, while they are practicing on public property in preparation for an upcoming competition, they are chased by the police and end up owing $10,000 for the damages caused during the chase. The following day, they all manage to get expelled from high school. Refusing to give up, the deck dogz head out on their boards, hoping to get Spasm a lucrative sponsorship from Tony Hawk, who'll be running the competition. Little do they know, they accidentally burned the school down. They will have to outrun the police and some drug dealers if Spasm is to get his chance at glory.
Deck Dogz sits in a very interesting place as a skating movie. On the one hand, it wants to be the loud, countercultural voice of wild skaters everywhere. It wants to be a cult classic, celebrating the attitude that marked the early days of the skating movement. It wants to stick up its middle finger at the authorities, moon its parents, and skip school for the hell of it. Our heroes break the law, steal, swear like sailors, and get expelled from high school. On the other hand, Deck Dogz is a very typical sports movie about following a dream. It is about an athlete who has plenty of talent, but has to contend with authority figures who don't understand his potential.
Over the past couple of decades, skating has morphed from a subculture of scruffy teens surfing empty swimming pools into a multi-million dollar industry. Like most others sports, it has professional heroes that children aspire to become. Success in skateboarding is attained the same way that it is in any other sport: through hard work, lots of practice, and a healthy lifestyle.
This film tries to reconcile these two sides of the skating culture. After all, the skating scene does seem to contain a paradox. The image of the subculture is still there in the clothes and symbols, but any serious skaters I've talked to live very clean lives, avoiding drugs so they can improve their craft. And slowly, we've come to ignore the rebel tough guy façade, realizing that most skaters are either pathetic poseurs, or decent kids working hard to succeed in a challenging and legitimate sport. Tony Hawk, unquestionably the most famous skateboarder alive, presents himself as a clean-cut family man, not one of the wild early Z-Boys.
Which begs the question: Why would Tony Hawk appear in a movie that reinforces so many of the silly old clichés? At the beginning of the film, we see teenagers who want to skate, but are chased down by the overzealous police, to the chagrin of their domineering, traditional parents. The conflict starts as the three Deck Dogz are charged for $10,000 for their unlawful skating, which is ridiculous. Apparently, Australia treats skateboarding the way that Singapore treats vandalism. Then, all three of the boys are expelled from their school because one of them skateboarded through the halls. As a high school teacher in Canada, I can imagine the lawsuits that would descend on that school, as well as the school board. It's simply too over the top to be believed. It also accepts the stereotypes that serious skateboarders have been trying to shed for the past number of years. These three boys lack the dedication and seriousness required to become good skaters.
At the same time as this struggle is going on, Australia is hosting a huge skateboarding competition a few miles away. Is skateboarding only hated so much in the suburbs? This is never explained. Over the next half-hour, though, I watched in fascination as this savage attack on suburbia's outlook turned into a generic, feel-good sports movie. The boys learn life lessons from Tony Hawk. Spasm's father shows up to cheer on his son. They're still expelled and owe the police 10 grand, but maybe we're supposed to have forgotten about that.
I'm also not sure who Deck Dogz is supposed to be for. Those uninterested in skating will feel alienated, then frustrated by the lousy plot and questionable acting. Serious skaters will be disappointed in its lack of good skating (even I was completely underwhelmed). And the short, cursory performance of Tony Hawk won't win anyone over. The hardest stunts aren't even real, and it's easy to tell. The film would probably appeal most to preteen boys, but the language and sexual content puts it easily out of their reach. I can't help but wonder if it's meant to be for unmotivated wannabe slackers, hoping to draw them in by the tough first act and using the second half to try to change their lives for the better. I seriously doubt it will work.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For all my complaints, Deck Dogz does have a few strong points. It has a rare visual audacity, blending animation styles with live action, generally to impressive effect. It makes the mediocre skating a bit more exciting, and it keeps the thin story moving at a fast clip. If director Steve Pasvolsky were to bring this style to a better film, he could have a true cult classic on his hands.
I also can't complain about any aspect of this disc. The video transfer looks stunning considering the budget of the film. There's tons of detail and a bold color palette. The sound is even better, featuring a rousing 5.1 track that flies in from all directions. For interested fans, there are a number of featurettes that examine everything from the animation to the stunt work in the film. All of them are delivered with sincerity and enthusiasm. There's an alternate ending, as well, which is too cheesy for words. There's also a deleted scene with Tony Hawk, which shows him skating much earlier in the film. The choice to remove this scene was a good one, because it would have overshadowed everything after it.
Deck Dogz tries to be too much, and it ends up doing too many things poorly. It's not a great sports film, nor is it a good skating movie. It doesn't work as a drama or a comedy. While some skate fanatics may want to check it out for an interesting portrayal of skater culture down under, most will likely be disappointed. Anchor Bay has done great work with the disc, but that only matters when it comes to movies that people want to watch.
Visual audacity aside, there's not much in Deck Dogz to satisfy. And so, the $10,000 fine still stands. Court adjourned.
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