Film Reviews

Torque Out

kay, so there's this terrible joke some dork told me: A mouse is drowning in quicksand, and an elephant happens by and says, "Here, grab hold of my large penis and I'll pull you out!" The mouse, puzzled but desperate, agrees, and is saved. Time passes, until the mouse happens upon the elephant, who is now, coincidentally, drowning in quicksand. "Hang on," says the mouse, who gets his Porsche and uses it to pull out the elephant. The flustered elephant thanks the mouse, and the mouse replies, "Well, it just goes to show that if you have a Porsche, you don't need a large penis."

Far be it from this film critic to speculate on the manhood of fledgling feature director Joseph Kahn, but if you swap the word "Porsche" for the phrase, "Marine Turbine Technologies ultra-fast Y2K bike with a carbon-fibre chassis housing a Rolls Royce jet-helicopter engine," the joke basically defines his movie Torque. The elephant here is an unwieldy gaggle of dumbass racial caricatures, and the quicksand is the script by Matt Johnson (presumably not of The The), which actually mocks itself before we even get the chance. As for the mouse -- well, if you can't say something nice (besides, Jay Leno owns one of these crotch rockets).

Since this ride is entirely about adrenaline and neato shots -- which is a valid, if limited, mode of cinema -- the plot is kept simple. Out in the California desert, where grimy thugs constantly attack each other with chains and guns while their low-rider chicks organize riotous thong-parades, a lone biker named Ford (New Zealand actor Martin Henderson, of The Ring) returns, natch, to clear his name. Seems six months earlier, Ford nabbed some slick bikes loaded with crystal meth from the evil Henry James (Matt Schulze), who wants to turn the screw on our hero and his portrait of a lady, Shane (Monet Mazur). James and his redneck hellions murder Junior (Fredro Starr), the younger brother of Trey (Ice Cube), leader of the black motorcycle club the Reapers -- and they pin it on Ford. Relentlessly pursued by all manner of crackers and niggaz and fuzz (oh, my!), what's a nice Evel Knievel wannabe to do?

Well, it helps that Ford is completely invincible. From the opening moments, wherein he thrashes two malevolent drag racers, to the "climactic" chase, during which he zooms on the aforementioned penile enhancement to outrun flaming bullets, there's no contest (though he can't defeat the huge soft drink ads). Not even the apparently 12-year-old FBI agent named McPherson (Adam Scott) and his compliant partner Henderson (Justina Machado) can catch him, and they've got a Hummer and most of California's police at their disposal (it's enjoyable to watch the Hummer get destroyed). Accompanied by Shane plus jolly cohorts Dalton (Jay Hernandez) and Val (Will Yun Lee, sporting visually interesting attached earlobes), all Ford has to do is make it back to L.A. with some completely absurd evidence, and everything will be fine.

Since there is never any sense of risk in these zippy 81 minutes, what we get are wall-to-wall stunts and flashy cinematography. This plays to Kahn's style-over-substance approach, as he has directed music videos for just about everybody in the "Grammy ghetto," including Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. From hyperkinesis to wild CG, from lurid shots of James's nasty goth girlfriend China (Jaime Pressly) to just about anything "sick" you can do with a motorcycle, it's in here. Heck, Ice Cube alone gets four shameless dolly-counter-zooms (that Vertigo-type camera trick), two of them -- one in, one out -- right in a row.

There are a couple of goofy expository sequences (one between the instantly reconciled lovers on a merry-go-round, the other just before the silly showdown), but action is the movie's only raison d'être. The finale fizzles, but earlier there's a desert chase that's fun. Composer Trevor Rabin (of Yes) steals the riff from A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" as the Reapers intersect Ford's gang outside Palm Springs. There's some humor and suspense as Shane battles a saucy thug named Rasan (resilient up-and-comer Eddie Steeples), then Trey and Ford barrel around, atop and through a speeding locomotive. Such stuff ain't deep, but it's clear that the cast and crew got some kicks while braving dangerously toasty temperatures.

Although the press notes liken the movie to Easy Rider (why not Lawrence of Arabia while you're at it?), the obvious comparison is to the Fast and Furious franchise, which shares the same producer. With none of Biker Boyz' attempts at dramatic content to hinder it, it does rawk, if redundantly. Actually, the closest spiritual cousin may be Pee-wee's Big Adventure, with its lone biker hero; all that's missing is the "Tequila" dance and the "I'm a rebel, Dottie" speech.

As for the title, "torque" basically means "rotating force," although it should be noted that it emerges from the same Latin root as "torture." Nonetheless, the movie isn't that bad, and one must at least appreciate any protagonist who dares ask of his culture, "What is it about driving cars that makes you all such assholes?"

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Gregory Weinkauf