Apart from the fact that it’s in 3-D, which adds less than you might think, Disney-ESPN’s “X Games 3D: The Movie” (as compared to what, the video game?) isn’t appreciably different from previous pictures that showcased skateboarders, car drivers, motorcyclists and other similar “extreme” athletes. For fans of such activities, footage of their idols in action may be enough, but even they might find the movie overall surprisingly ordinary.
And while the material that director Steve Lawrence and cameraman Matt Goodman collected from the competition at the 2008 X-Games in Los Angeles is good enough, it doesn’t substantially improve on the sort of thing one would expect in regular TV coverage of the event. (Indeed, much of the soundtrack accompanying the footage consists of the lame, repetitive color commentary from the live cable feed.) The makers even give us replay after replay of the same jumps, spills and victory dances, just like on television.
Presumably the special come-on here is supposed to be behind-the-scenes footage of the athletes practicing and their own commentary (Travis Pastrana, Kyle Loza and Shaun White are especially loquacious). But the practice film isn’t especially exciting, and it turns out that these dudes talk in what seems an endless stream of cliches; if you removed “innovation,” “pushing the limits,” “you never know what he’s going to do, and you can’t wait to see” and especially “taking it to a new level” from their vocabulary, they might be mute.
But even at that, their remarks come like a breath of fresh air after the narration written by Lawrence and Greg Jennings and delivered flatly by Emile Hirsh. It’s a string of strained similes, purple prose, oracular pronouncements and dippy dicta so overblown that it has to be heard to be disbelieved. If only it were intended ironically. No such luck. (The voices do, however, help to drown out some of Tobias Enhus’ bombastic music score. But presumably he’s not responsible for the horrendous pseudo-rap monstrosity played under the opening credits.)
The other big problem with “X Games 3D” is that it doesn’t explain the scoring rules for the events it records. Even in the big final skateboarding face-off, it’s never made clear why Bob Burnquist is awarded the gold over Danny Way, who has a terrible fall but returns on what was probably a broken foot to complete a five-run series. And while it’s clear why Ricky Carmichael wins what amounts to a motorcycle pole-jump (he clears the thing with inches to spare, while his opponent crashes), why Pastrana is victorious in a car race is as unclear as the dust he sends up doing doughnuts after the contest. And we see White coming in third (I think) in a skateboarding event, but unless I missed it, we’re not shown how his rivals won.
What “X Games” is supposed to make us appreciate, in the end, is the grit and determination of the guys (no gals here, I’m afraid, except for Pastrana’s co-driver). That’s why it spends so much time in the last reel on Way, gamely overcoming broken bones and terrible pain to continue competing even though doing so might mean permanent injury. Actually, though, I was more impressed more by Goth-garbed motorcyclist Loza, who admits early on that he hates dirt bikes (his instrument of choice), and keeps on tempting fate on the scary device not for the thrill it gives him, but to allow him to keep his house and the other things he’s come to depend on. There’s a guy I can relate to—somebody who’s no nut in love with danger and physical damage (I’m talking to you, Pastrama), but a rational fellow who gauges risk against reward.
And if you apply the same kind of logic to the movie, you’ll skip its week-long theatrical run and just wait for the inevitable ESPN broadcast. You’ll have to do without the 3D effect, of course, but you won’t be missing much. In fact, you won’t be missing much if you skip “X Games 3D” altogether—except that hilariously bad narration, of course.