X Games 3D: The Movie -- Film Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Only in the loosest sense is "X Games 3D: The Movie" an actual movie. Essentially a promotional film for extreme action sports and ESPN, the network that developed the sports franchise, the footage hits theaters with the added attraction of 3D.

3D does lend an exciting new dimension -- yes, let's use the word -- to this death-defying sports competition with its jaw-dropping stunts. Enthusiasts, most of whom are young men, will jam theaters during the film's one-week engagement. But it's hard to imagine anyone else, other than willing dates, being interested.

After shooting something like 50 hours of 2008 X Games events, director Steve Lawrence and producer Phil Orlins decided to structure these competitions around six of the sport's biggest stars, who figure prominently in the outcomes. So another 50 hours of interviews, where 3D doesn't mean a whole lot, give the competitions perspective.

This added footage presents the athletes' fatalistic outlooks on pushing for increasingly dangerous stunts, the endless hours of practice and the backstories that give the competitions their drama.

Getting up close and personal are the ever-enthusiastic redhead Shaun White, 22, who splits his year between the skateboard and snowboard, and fellow skateboarders, veterans Danny Way, 35, who jumped the Great Wall of China on a broken ankle, and Bob Burnquist, 32, who plays in the same rock band with his friendly rival Way.

Ricky Carmichael, 29, is the GOAT -- Greatest of All Time -- of Moto X with 150 wins on the racing bike. Here he trains and competes in a High Jump on his dirt bike. Travis Pastrana tries but sometimes fails to perform double backflips on his motorcycle in Moto X events as well as driving in Rally Car Racing. In so doing, he has broken his pelvis, back and knees and has had, in Carmichael's words, "too many concussions to remember." The latter is said without apparent irony.

A tattooed two-time X Game gold medalist in Moto X, Kyle Loza, 23, at least has the sense to train by landing in a foam pit that significantly reduces the chance of injury and to declare that "dirt bikes aren't fun -- they're too scary and dangerous."

Even with 3D, the events themselves, which come with ESPN commentary, still feel like a TV event. Sure, we get an "all-access pass," with the backstage drama and instant interviews while the athletes' adrenaline is still pumping. But nearly all TV sports broadcasts now have their own sideline coverage.

The filmmakers smartly position the film's highlight at the end. A skateboard event on a Mega Ramp at the Staples Center in Los Angeles truly deserves the label of "unbelievable." First, a year before, Jake Brown fell badly. Now he returns to the same event.

Then Way's second jump goes terribly awry, and he limps off probably with broken bones. But Way rejects medical advice and returns to the arena to continue his dual with pal Burnquist, attempting even more dangerous jumps with a broken body.

The movie and its commentators treat this self-destructive foolhardiness with admiration for the competitors' bravery and macho. From a dramatic point of view, that's not wrong. Apparently, the sight of 25-year-old Pastrana walking with the stiff and painful gait of a 70-year-old man earlier in the film has been forgotten by this point.

One can only hope that not too many young people take to heart what one competitor says, "Who wants an A in history when you can get an X?" By the way, the film is dedicated to X Gamer Jeremy Lusk, who died last year at age 24 from injuries sustained in a motocross stunt. This tragedy is never mentioned during the film.

Opens: Friday, Aug. 21 (Disney)

Production: ESPN Films
Narrator: Emile Hirsch
Director: Steve Lawrence
Screenwriter: Greg Jennings
Producer: Phil Orlins
Director of stereoscopy: Pierre-Hugues Routhier
Co-producers: Tori Stevens, Jason Brenek
Director of photography: Matt Goodman
Music: Tobias Enhus
Editor: Todd Crites
Rated PG, 93 minutes