Critics' Pick

12 O'Clock Boys (NR)

Documentary 75 min. January 31, 2014
By Amy Nicholson
Baltimore's 12 O'Clock Boys are a dirt bike crew who literally believe in ride or die. If it weren't for their Sundays in the streets causing havoc for the cops, boredom and stress would get them in worse trouble. And from what we see in Lotfy Nathan's documentary, we believe it. The Boys, so-named for doing wheelies where they rear straight back like a minute hand stretching for midnight, are heroes to neighborhood kids like Pug, a small-for-his-age scrapper who we watch mature from 12 to 15 while he begs to join the group. But they're a road hazard to the B'more police, and thugs to the local citizenry, who seem to have an instant suspicion of any young black male with a loud set of wheels. Riding bikes sure seems like a better hobby than drugs or gangs, but the Boys and the cops are in a complex -- and sometimes deadly -- stand-off. The 12 O'Clock Boys is an urban western with ball caps and bikes in place of cowboy hats and horses. And, like the best westerns, both sides are at fault. That their dirt bike parades are rebellious just makes the Boys like them even more. Nathan shoots their rides with the slow-motion glamour of a nature documentary, but he doesn't lionize the gang: we see them pulling alongside cop cars and kicking their doors before spinning a u-turn and darting away. What lingers isn't the swaggering trails of diesel fumes. It's the sadness of watching Pug narrow his options: getting suspended from school, downgrading his ambitions from veterinarian to dogcatcher, pinning everything on that future Sunday afternoon when he can ride with the pack.
Lotfy Nathan Coco, Pug, Steven Lotfy Nathan Lotfy Nathan, Eric Blair, Taylor Gillespie, John Kassab Oscilloscope Laboratories