Espn's Ultimate X

2002, Movie, PG, 47 mins


Competitive skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling, street luge, in-line skating and motorcycle and mountain-bike stunt driving (aka Moto X and BMX, respectively) are all part of a loose conglomeration of athletic activities known colloquially as "extreme sports." There used to be others: When the term was first used in the early 1990s, it also included "super-modified shovel racing" (you sit on the scoop, hold onto the handle, and slide downhill) and kayak bungee-jumping, but they never made it in terms of popularity. The ones that did survive are now part of the X Games, a sort of slacker Super Bowl run by the sports network ESPN. Traditional sportsfolk tend to be snobbish about such upstart activities, but they paint with too big a brush; twirling one's legs around a motorcycle while in midair may not take the training, grace and physicality of mastering the uneven bars in a gymnastic competition, but street luge really isn't any odder than snow luge. Focusing on the 2001 Summer X Games that were held in Philadelphia, debut director Bruce Hendricks (a second-unit helmer on PEARL HARBOR and DEUCE BIGALOW: MALE GIGOLO) forthrightly addresses the sports' second-class status while justly celebrating such charismatic practitioners as Moto X rider Travis Pastrana; skateboarders Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek; and BMX stunt rider Cory "Nasty" Nastazio, who seems to be to the X Games what the grody Puck was to MTV's The Real World. Hendricks, who also served as the film's writer, tries to balance the inherent visual spectacle with journalistically grounded history and information. It all would have worked marvelously anywhere else, and that's the problem: You don't need a seven-story IMAX screen for talking heads, and Hendricks's film provides a succession of them that wouldn't be out of place on Nightline. If one intent of large-format films is to provide a visceral experience, then this one needs more impressionistic cinematography and exhilarating point-of-view shots and fewer slow-motion "grandeur" shots and quick-cut edits that often detract from the athleticism. It's the difference between watching Fred Astaire dancing full-frame and live on film and the hundred-take collection of cuts that make up a dance sequence from FOOTLOOSE. Happily, a feeling of genuine comradeship among these athletes shines through, and their irreverent, go-for-broke comments are a jolt of fun compared to the usual canned epigrams from pampered sports multimillionaires. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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