“People don’t understand the problems of a 40-year-old skate park cult leader, ya know,” slurs man-child Brewce Martin as he sips from a tallboy of high gravity lager in the opening moments of the documentary Skatopia: 88 Acres of Anarchy. Brewce is a poster child for what Urban Dictionary describes as “Peter Panism,” or a staunch refusal to grow up. Despite having fathered two children and a mountain of debt, Brewce dumps every cent he has into “Skatopia,” a huge slab of land in Appalachia he has painstakingly converted into an elaborate skate park/teenager’s wet dream.
Brewce (who’s giving my spell check tool a run for its money) is, first and foremost, a people-pleaser. He invites skateboard enthusiasts of all ages to come on out to his playground, providing food, cheap beer and even a place to rest their heads. In return, all he asks for is a little manual labor and a whole lot of adoration. Sadly, just about the only person unwilling to placate his ego is his long-time girlfriend, Halo. They share a young daughter together as well as a hinted-at string of infidelities. This revelation is especially disconcerting when you stop to consider that 80 percent of Brewce’s interactions seem to be with naive and very young girls. One suspects Halo may have started that way herself and only eventually saw him for what he is.
We’re also treated to obligatory cameos by Tony Hawk and Bam Margera. Both seem appreciative of—if a little bewildered by—what Martin has created, and it is their public endorsement that kept his vision afloat even during its shakiest times. A good deal of money seems to have been invested in a line of Skatopia brand shoes, but this too fails, thanks to poor business management. The dodging of bill collectors’ phone calls and onslaught of insufficient fund notifications prove a telling theme throughout.
Each year, Brewce and his minions put on an event in Skatopia called “The Bowl Bash,” a weekend affair celebrating their passion for all things wheeled. Live music, fireworks displays, the whole enchilada. Preparations this particular year are interrupted, though, thanks to an unexpected 60-day jail sentence for Brewce. The details of the events leading to his arrest are a little hazy, but it’s implied he has something of an angry streak. This comes full circle when, on the day of his release, he mercilessly beats a man half his age for ribbing him about his stint in the joint. This altercation is caught on camera and downright disturbing when compared to the genial tone the movie has established up through this point. Our protagonist is suddenly shown in an unsympathetic light, and the dark shadow it casts on the second half of the film is considerable and unnerving.
Even in terms of fly-on-the-wall documentaries, the production values here are lackluster. Music cues are intermittent to the point of distraction and, outside of Brewce and his immediate family, we don’t get a true sense of who anyone is or what brought them here. Zeroing in on the dynamics and occasional turmoil of a particular family is a fine enough idea, but Skatopia doesn’t have the attention span to settle down with it. It’s a celebration of juvenility with the behind-the-scenes know-how to match. There’s a shaggy charm to it, sure, but not enough to sustain its 94-minute running time. Parse this puppy down by half and you’d have an enjoyable enough short film that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Final Grade: C