Slice-of-life documentary 12 O'Clock Boys penetrates a Baltimore, subculture of young men who ride dirt bikes en masse through the streets of the city at high speeds in theatrically disruptive, wheelie-popping style. The riders weave in and out of traffic and taunt local police, who are forbidden from chasing them in order to avoid additional threats to public safety. Popularized through YouTube, the 12 O'Clock Boys have become folk heroes to some in Baltimore and beyond. They ride to express their independence and find a little freedom in an economically depressed world that offers few options to inner-city youth.
First-time director Lotfy Nathan is 26 years old and currently on his way to graduate school in film, but his youth surely came in handy in earning the trust of his subjects. That access leads to some fantastic up-close footage of the riders' theatrics and a sobering look into their daily lives. Nathan views his subjects largely through the eyes of a Baltimore pre-teen named Pug, who hopes to become a 12 O'Clock Boy, a directorial choice that adds another dimension to the impressionistic film. But by choosing not to analyze the riders' actions (which have resulted in more than one death) or address difficult questions suggested by their very existence, the director winds up with a needlessly lightweight film. — KEN KORMAN