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Arts & Culrture/Reel Dealz
Date Posted:

by:Edwardo Jackson

MOVIE BIASES: With each ubiquitous ad, it starts looking dumber and dumber.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Martin Henderson (The Ring), Ice Cube (Barbershop), Jay Hernandez (Crazy/Beautiful), producer Neal Moritz (2 Fast 2 Furious), and music video director Joseph Kahn.

Once upon a time (okay, summer 2001), a little film named "Fast and the Furious" opened to over $42 million its debut weekend, sending all the little studio execs scurrying about Hollywood trying to replicate that success in accessing an untapped market/sub-culture by churning out a generic variation of street car racing through motorcycle racing. They paraded every other black writer they could find into rushed pitch meetings (including yours truly) in search of a "story" (stop laughing) they could develop in time to beat the competition to the theaters in order to separate you from your dollar first. Although DreamWorks' "Biker Boyz" won the race by coming out first last January, Warner Bros.' "Torque" just may win the Winston Cup, a movie that's just as uneven as "Biker Boyz" but far, far more entertaining.

The plot's a little convoluted (especially for a biker flick) but here's what I've got so far: Ford (Henderson) has just returned to Cali from hiding out in Thailand for some crimes he did commit and drug traffickers he had pissed off. Of course, the only thing to bring him back was his love for Shane (Monet Mazur), who's giving him a hard time because of the way he had dipped out on her just ahead of an FBI raid. Never mind that the biker gang leader Henry (Matt Schulze) and black biker gang leader Trey (Cube) are out to kill him for different yet interconnected reasons having to do with a murder Ford didn’t commit. He just wants to make things right, win back his girl, and ride off into the sunset - at 200 MPH.

For the rest of this review, as I did with this movie, feel free to check your brain at the door. You're not going to see much emoting in a movie that moves as fast as the bikes it covers. Sometimes rapper no-times actor Fredro Starr (TV's "Moesha") wildly overacts, as usual, but thank goodness we don't have to put up with it long. Monet Mazur is a semi-pretty, semi-tough, semi-lovable object of semi-desire that is semi-believable. In fact, let's just consider Mazur "semi" overall. The charismatic Jay Hernandez, so wonderfully used and underseen in the much slept on "Crazy/Beautiful" (maybe it was the Stupid/Ugly title), is largely wasted in a sidekick role, mirroring the well-intentioned but ultimately lifeless sidekick performance of Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day). I'm still waiting for the day a major Hollywood studio produces a movie with solid Latino or Asian lead roles, but I won't hold my breath. Ice Cube's in full-on non-lip moving, Samsonite tough mode, so hard, he might just break YOUR concentration. It's a little much however, a caricature of his younger, more genuinely angry NWA days, playacting anger by Compton via Calabasas instead of actually just being anger by Compton. And Martin Who-derson?, a grizzled Pitt-Cruise-Crowe hybrid test-tubed for the MTV generation who has lived underneath my entertainment radar, is fine as the squinty-eyed, wannabe Eastwood trouble magnet Ford, a guy who gets into three fights in the first fifteen minutes of screen time.

But in a movie like this, it's all about the direction. Thankfully, there is some. Like it or hate it, Joseph Kahn, Neal Moritz et. al. decided early on that there would be a no-holds barred, marriage-like commitment to the holy screen sacrament of ACTION. From the opening spoof of a turtle marking a "Fast and the Furious"-like street car race - and Ford's blowing by them in his lighter, faster motorbike - you see that subtlety and boredom are not on this movie's agenda. Using strong colors in lighting, computer enhanced blur editing, and pulse-pounding music from the always reliable Trevor Rabin (Armageddon), "Torque" is basically one long motorcycle chase that stops occasionally for sex, fights, shameless product placement, and more sex.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. A perfect training wheels movie for a former music video director, "Torque" is in capable, if not stylishly inspired hands of Joseph Kahn, who wields the camera well, with verve, and oozing bona fide potential (for action, maybe; I wouldn't trust him with a sequel "The English Patient" anytime soon). He gets the whole rowdy, sexual, and insular biker scene, packs enough action so you never seriously interrogate the plot (or the acting), and finds room to inject a little humor in the proceedings through the strength of directing (the script by Matt Johnson offers very little in the form of entertainment). Kahn can shoot the hell out of an action sequence, as exhibited in the ridiculously inventive freeway chase involving a highly unrealistic bike to car transfer and wanton destruction that makes it a shorter, distant cousin, twice removed, of "The Matrix Reloaded's" freeway scene. In fact, Kahn's exuberance is also his undoing. You can feel the sheer visceral nature of the speed of these machines, but the blurring and visual effects and speed outpace not just common sense, reality, or gravity, but also the good old freakin' EYE. If I can't see half the scene at all because it's too dang fast, why film it? Even at an action orgy where our brains have been coat-checked, "Torque" is just a little too cartoonishly fast and violent for its own good. And that's coming from a guy who LOVES action.

As Ford's boy Val says, "It wouldn't be any fun if it were easy. But does it have to be this much fun?" Same goes for "Torque." I'm all for having fun, and blowing stuff up, and not giving a flying Rush Limbaugh about whether it all makes sense or not. But even for an action movie, sometimes enough is enough. And that's when other stuff gets exposed, like how carb-free light the 80 minute plot is. Despite a visually auspicious directing debut that bears viewing, "Torque," as defined by the dictionary as "a twisting or turning force" settles for entertaining, if unfulfilling, straight ahead speed.

Extra medium.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree with The Reel Deal? Think he's talkin' out his...HUSH YO' MOUF! (I'm only talkin' about The Reel Deal!) Email him at ReelReviewz@aol.com!

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com


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