BIASES: With each ubiquitous ad, it starts looking 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.
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.
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.
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
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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