Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Not a reissue of Disney’s 1981 stab at the sword 'n' sorcery market, then. In fact, it’s been a long time since I saw a film whose title bore so little resemblance to its subject matter.

It comes from an admiring fan’s description of Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval, a skateboarder from southern California and it’s pretty clear that’s how the protagonist sees himself; a permanent rebel whose talent is a way of making a stand against a monolithic, hostile society from which he feels utterly alienated – and tackling some of his personal demons along the way.

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The product of a broken home and already the father of a young son despite being barely into his 20s, Josh spends what money he can scrape together cleaning up disused swimming pools to practise in and travelling to skating competitions in the hope of amassing some titles, a reputation – and some regular high-profile sponsors.

Unfortunately he comes across as not exactly driven by ambition and, to my untrained eye, most of the other skaters in the competition clips seem to be better than him. As the film progresses, the gulf between Josh’s dreams and the reality – another stick-thin dude in stylishly scruffy clothes with a permanently stoned, unworldly air drifting aimlessly through life – becomes more and more apparent.

Positive role models don’t exactly abound in his immediate circle; surfer dudes (and chicks) with a smattering of gnarled LA punk scene veterans equally unhappy with a world ruled by The Man but equally vague as to how to go about changing it. It’s not always clear how ironic an eye the film is casting on these guys but you’ll be doing better than me if you don’t occasionally think that they’re just another set of rebels without a cause.

But even as your inner phone-in show contributor has decided all they need is a square meal, a short back and sides and a couple of years in the Army, Patterson will conjure up a telling scene or image – Josh painstakingly clearing the filth and detritus from an abandoned pool, the gang practising in silence as the California sky turns from orange to indigo – to remind you that they’re at least passionate about what they do and are using a non-violent, creative means of dealing with a life that’s given them few breaks and fewer options.

Josh comes across as a decent, pleasant enough young man, trying to make a living from something he really enjoys and be as good a dad as possible to his six-month old baby, Sid Rocket (though you wonder how both of them will look back 20 years from now on the ginormous tattoo Josh gets done in honour of his sprog). It’s hard not to sympathise when his various attempts to move his career up another notch fade into nothingness and he ends up with a sensible haircut and a name tag, taking a McJob to make ends meet.

Patterson’s undoubtedly got the confidence of these rad dudes, creating the feel of a genuine dispatch from another tribe. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about his direction – save for breaking the action into a set of numbered sequences, which actually has the effect of highlighting the saminess of Josh’s adventures and making a short running time feel longer. He simply let the subjects speak for themselves, adding the occasional arty shot and layering a hip soundtrack over it all in a way which has, to be honest, become over-familiar.

The gang’s musings yield some gems – an elder of the pack earnestly expressing his admiration for "the British empiricist philosopher David Hume" – but it’s worrying when the film uncritically gives Josh’s girlfriend a vaguely anti-government monologue which includes pearls of wisdom such as "just quit paying tax – like Willie Nelson" and "own, carry and know how to use firearms".

A little gentle prodding by Patterson at the inconsistencies in the philosophy of his subjects, who consume and buy into artificially constructed ‘identities’ as assiduously as any buttoned-up salaryperson, wouldn’t have done any harm. Instead he seems to buy into their ‘stoner chic’ (in a similar manner to Larry Clark’s Kids) and opt out of relating them to American society as a whole – except for a few perfunctory references to the recession creating more empty swimming pools.

If you’re into his kind of stuff it makes a reasonable companion piece to the documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys and Catherine Hardwicke’s dramatised version Lords Of Dogtown. But for skater agnostics it’s hard not to come away thinking that, despite a sweet story at its heart, the film’s only message is that it’s cool to be different, but hard to make a living out of it. Like, d’uh?

Reviewed on: 02 Nov 2011
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Documentary following a year in the life of skateboarder Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval.
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Director: Tristan Patterson

Starring: Josh 'Skreech' Sandoval

Year: 2011

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: USA

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