[Screen It]

(2009) (Documentary) (PG)

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Documentary: A look at the various participants and risky stunts they perform at the annual X-Games competition.
Filmmaker Steve Lawrence takes a look at some of the participants of the 14th annual X-Games competition (that took place in Los Angeles in 2008) and others from past similar events and endeavors. Among those profiled are Danny Way, Travis Pastrana, Shaun White, Ricky Carmichael, Bob Burnquist and Kyle Loza who are seen practicing and performing their various stunts on bikes, skateboards and such, all while discussing what motivates them to participate in such risky and potentially dangerous athletic behavior.
OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Looking back on my childhood growing up in the late 1960s and '70s -- back before stunts were recorded on video and posted on the Internet for all to see, and when Sports Illustrated only covered mainstream sports -- I think we may have invented any number of activities that are popular today.

First, there was Frisbee golf, where we'd pick certain landmarks far across the neighborhood and then see who could get their discs there in the least amount of throws. Granted, that wasn't particularly risky -- save for possibly losing one's Frisbee to a tree or neighbor's roof -- so we also did the standard wild bike riding down steep hills in the summer and the same on sleds in the winter (although doing the same on a curvy path through tree-heavy woods with a creek at the bottom was far more fun but not particularly nice to sleds -- ours at my mom's place still has a large dent in the steering metal up front from one such impact).

We also did our share of skateboarding stunts ranging from a decent sidewalk depression at the high school to riding them down neighbors' sidewalks while lying on our backs. Okay, I'll admit we probably weren't the only ones to do that (due to the odds of probability), but there was no way for us to check at the time, and the documentary "X-Games 3D: The Movie" doesn't offer much in the way of historical insight into such matters either.

Basically a feature-length promo piece for the annual X-Games (in this case, the 14th installment that took place in 2008 Los Angeles), the film does feature plenty of amazing footage of various dudes doing some wild, seemingly impossible, and briefly gravity-defying stunts on skateboards, performance bikes and such. And with all of that appearing in eye-popping 3D and with multiple cameras covering every twist, contortion and bone-crunching wipeout, the footage is something to behold.

Yet, as a documentary about said competition, such athletic endeavors in general, and those who partake in them, the film leaves a lot to be desired. While the various competitors are interviewed and discuss what makes them tick (all of which cumulatively boils down to them being adrenaline junkies who don't want to finish second), we know next to nothing about them as people. The same holds true for the creation of the X-Games, the Olympics later creating categories for some of the events, and so on.

Instead, what we get is lots of faux profoundness, from the statuesque shots of the participants posing as the modern day equivalent of Greek gods (albeit with lots of padding and safety gear) to the sometimes hilariously overdone narration written by writer/director Steve Lawrence and co-writer Greg Gennings that then flows from actor Emile Hirsch's mouth.

The majority of the film, however, is just footage of the guys (where are the women?) doing their thing, whether in practice or real competition. Yes, some of what's shown is jaw-dropping and defies both gravity and, more notably, common sense, and fans of this sort of athleticism will probably think they've died and gone to Heaven. And that's mainly due to getting to view such larger than life endeavors on, well, a larger than life canvas (although the film is reportedly and quite oddly only going to play in theaters for one week -- or at least that's the ploy to get fans rushing out to see it).

For the rest of us, it all certainly looks cool (and the stunts are, well, considerably bigger and riskier than we ever could have imagined as kids back in the day). Yet, considering two long segments that focus on the actual competition (complete with color commentators), it starts to feel like we're watching sports on TV (albeit in 3D on a really big screen).

With various competitors chatting about the need to take risks to grow and avoid ending up stagnant, one ends up wishing the filmmakers followed the same mantra with their so-called documentary and did something more inventive with showcasing this amazing sport. Fun to watch but fairly empty in terms of context or learned knowledge, "X-Games 3D: The Movie" comes off as little more than a promotional tool for the event. It rates as a 4 out of 10 simply for its eye candy and occasional dropped jaw appeal.

Reviewed August 18, 2009 / Posted August 21, 2009

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