by Mel Valentin
A crass exercise in commercialism, "Torque" goes wrong in so many (obvious) ways that sitting through its brisk 85-minute running length is either an unbearable chore (for more serious-minded moviegoers) or an unexpectedly entertaining, if unintentional, comedy. Aiming low and surprisingly, missing their mark, first time (and possibly last time) music video director turned feature-length helmer Joseph Kahn and first time (and, again, possibly last time) screenwriter Matt Johnson were obviously tasked with duplicating the financial success of "The Fast and the Furious." Instead of souped-up cars and illegal street racing, Kahn and Johnson cleverly substitute customized Japanese motorcycles (in the common, if derogatory parlance, “crotch rockets” or “rice burners”). Throw in some attractive, if limited, actors, insert an action scene every ten minutes (sometimes visibly aided by CGI) and instant financial success follows (or so "Torque’s" producers thought).Crediting their intended (read: male adolescent) audience with a modicum of intelligence, or at least, a good working memory, Kahn and Johnson open Torque with a scene straight out of The Fast and the Furious. At a traffic light (somewhere in the California desert), two souped up cars rev their engines. The light changes and within seconds, a customized motorcycle approaches, passing the cars at the first opportunity. Kahn, obviously a graduate of the Michael Bay school of migraine-inducing filmmaking, uses every stylistic trick available, from quick cuts, fast track ins or zoom ins, helicopter shots, and CGI-assisted shots familiar to viewers of CSI, all meant to jolt the audience with a shot of adrenaline. More likely, viewers will be either nauseous, annoyed, or both.
Segue to the next scene at a roadside diner. Cue generic rock music. Our leather-clad hero, Cary Ford (Martin Henderson, apparently chosen more for his looks than his acting talents), dramatically dismounts his motorcycle. After a bit where he further humiliates the drivers of the two cars he’s just beaten, he meets up with his two main cronies, Dalton (Jay Hernandez) and Val (Will Yun Lee). Their reunion quickly establishes that our hero has only now returned from a six-month sojourn abroad (Thailand). Ford, it seems, fled the United States due to (false) drug charges and the FBI at his heels.
Back in town, the obligatory romantic subplot kicks into gear. For understandable reasons, Ford left his then-girlfriend Shayne (Monet Mazur, pretty but vacuous) abruptly. She resists his attempts at reconciliation. Ford, though, has other problems. Henry James (Matt Schulze), the mulletted leader of a bike gang, the Hellions, wants Ford to return two motorcycles he had in his possession before Ford fled for Thailand (they contain drugs, of course). Ford has also run afoul of Trey (Ice Cube), the leader of an African-American bike gang, the Reapers. Trey has a hothead younger brother, Junior (Fredro Starr) who, predictably, keeps baiting Ford. Junior also has aspirations of becoming wealthy and powerful, hoping to broker a deal between Henry and his brother.
Someone dies, of course, setting up a running battle between the Reapers and Ford (and his crew), who races to Los Angeles to retrieve the warehoused motorcycles, hoping to make a deal of his own with the feds, while implicating Henry at the same town. Needless to say, our ostensible hero will have to face a complication or two (or three), as well as one or two major reversals before he can clear his name and ride off with Shayne and his cronies to Mexico (why Mexico? Well, why not?). More importantly, the chase across the California desert to Los Angeles allows Kahn to stage at least two major set pieces, including one that culminates with a must-be-seen-to-be-disbelieved (CGI-assisted) set piece on and through a moving passenger train. The ride to LA also includes the obligatory freeway chase scene, with Ford driving a racecar, and at the climax, a motorcycle chase/duel through LA’s financial district short on thrills and suspense and long on unintentional comedy, thanks to video-game quality effects.
Where to begin with Torque’s faults? The dialogue? It’s execrable, if occasionally functional. The script? Written with minimal effort or thought (all but the main character and the villain are given only first names). The performances? As awful as can be expected from a first-time director more interested in staging, over-the-top action scenes than in directing actors, with only Jay Hernandez and Will Yun Lee turning in naturalistic performances. Ice Cube gives his typical angry, constipated, furrowed brow performance. Henderson flounders when he has to string together more than two or three of Matt Johnson’s dialogue. Mazur seems lost. Matt Schulze, as the hygiene-challenged, cartoonish villain and Jaime Pressly, as the villain’s fetish-inclined girlfriend, China, fare slightly better. China and Shayne are given their own motorcycle duel that’s just as ludicrous as the duel between the lead character and the villain moments later. The direction? Equally laughable, with Kahn apparently confused as to whether he was directing a live-action feature film or a cartoon (characters fall from speeding bikes, only to get up moments later, relatively unscathed). Kahn’s hyperkinetic directing style may be indicative of desperation, desperation at working with such a flawed, lackluster script.For all these reasons (and more), "Torque" shines, if "shines" is the right word, as a testament to genre filmmaking at its worst (or its best, depending on your perspective). "Torque" is best approached and seen with popcorn or other edibles in one hand and skepticism, cynicism, and a healthy sense of irony on the other. From that perspective, "Torque" may just be one of the most entertaining “bad” movies to come along in the last five or six years (that number, as you’ll probably guess, is purely arbitrary). Hollywood genre films rarely get worse or dumber, and therefore, as enjoyable as "Torque" manages to be. Strictly for connoisseurs of “so-bad-it’s-good” movies or ironists.
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originally posted: 07/10/05 14:07:47