Director-cinematographer Lotfy Nathan takes a decidedly judgment-free approach to the provocative characters and situations in his urban documentary "12 O'Clock Boys." Good thing? Maybe. But some viewers may not prove as neutral as they consider this unvarnished, kinetic, often disturbing portrait of illegal dirt bikers in inner-city Baltimore.
For three years, starting in 2010, Nathan follows a brash kid named Pug, who's 13 at the start. His goal is to join the controversial local dirt-bike group called the 12 O'Clock Boys, so-named for driving their bikes straight up like the hands of a clock. But these riders are hardly prime role models; they're a self-possessed bunch who flout laws and give chase to the cops, who can't pursue lest they endanger innocent bystanders.
These renegades are also, it should be said, largely proficient drivers whose fraternal passion for biking is a relatively healthier outlet than some of their more dubious "extracurricular" options.
Although Nathan gets up close and personal with the increasingly pugnacious Pug, his strident single mother, Coco (a one-woman reality TV show), and the various 12 O'Clock Boys whom Pug admires and emulates, the young filmmaker rarely digs beneath the harsh environment's many fraught surfaces. He simply lets his cameras be his guide.
The deeply complex cultural and socioeconomic issues at the heart of Pug's turbulent world demand more specific study, and Nathan leaves it to a few local cops and anxious TV reporters to provide the film's bit of counter-narrative. Authenticity alert: the N-word and F-bombs abound.
"12 O'Clock Boys."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Friday and Saturday night only at the Crest, Westwood.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times