THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"TORQUE"

January 2003 - I’m sitting in a theater watching Biker Boyz, a movie about motorcycle gangs. January 2004 - I’m sitting in a theater watching Torque, another movie about motorcycle gangs. Both films feature popular music artists in supporting roles (Kid Rock and Ice Cube, respectively). Both films aspire to please the same crowd that ate up The Fast and the Furious a few years ago. I hate that feeling of déjà vu. Of the two, Torque is marginally better, but it still doesn’t warrant a recommendation.

Martin Henderson (The Ring) stars as Ford, a biker who left Los Angeles for Thailand after stealing some motorcycles from a rival. The bikes were being used to hide crystal meth, and Ford tried to move them out of the repair shop owned by his unsuspecting girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur). When the cops thought the drugs belonged to Ford, he stashed the bikes and left the country. (Hey, this plot doesn’t make much sense to me either.) The movie begins with Ford returning to L.A. He naturally tries to reassemble his relationship with Shane. The bad guy naturally comes looking for his drugs. The cops naturally begin looking for Ford. Then Ford is set up for murdering the brother of gang leader Trey (Ice Cube), who comes looking for revenge.

I have to start off by saying there are some good things about Torque, namely the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows it’s a silly updated version of those old biker flicks that used to play as the second-billed feature at drive-ins. There are some witty lines of dialogue (including a reference to Ice Cube’s N.W.A. days when Trey comments, “F--- tha police!”). Some of the supporting performances are kind of funny too. I liked Adam Scott as the dry federal agent who is trying to track Ford down. He has a way of vastly understating the obvious that earns a few laughs. For example, after being in a nasty car accident, he remarks, “well, the airbags work.” Then there’s Jamie Pressley as the girlfriend of Ford’s nemesis. Her job is to simply wear a threadbare outfit, sport numerous piercings and tattoos, and lick her lips voluptuously whenever the camera focuses on her. The thing about Pressley is that she’s a B-movie actress, she knows she’s a B-movie actress, and she seems determined to be the best damn B-movie actress that she can be.

The problem with Torque is simple. Its director, Joseph Kahn, came out of music videos, and that’s exactly how he shoots the film. Some former video directors have proven to be quite capable as film directors, but that’s because they know how to tell a story. Kahn, on the other hand, only seems interested in making everything look “cool” without any allowances for plot or characterization.

His style even interferes with the action. In order to get the most “rad” style possible, Kahn uses extensive computer manipulation in the action scenes. The motorcycles appear to do things that are impossible, both by the laws of gravity and logic. Now, I understand that movies perpetually use special effects to exaggerate reality. That’s fine. The problem with Torque is that it’s so obviously artificial. I found the action scenes to be totally unexciting because the effects look like effects. There’s not even an attempt to make them appear real. One example is a scene in which Ford and Trey race their motorcycles in and around a moving train. I’m fairly certain that it’s impossible to spin donuts on top of an Amtrak.

An even more egregious example is the grand finale. The CGI effects are so blatant here that Torque stops looking like a movie and literally starts looking like a video game. Cars flop around as though they’re made of rubber, buildings shake as the motorcycles speed by, a trail of fire shoots down the road behind Ford, and so on. Everything – and I mean everything - in the sequence has been created by computers. The end result is so exaggerated, so utterly unconvincing, that I tuned out. It’s perfectly acceptable to use CGI to enhance the action of a scene, but this movie takes it over the line. When everything is artificial, it’s almost impossible to create any real sense of excitement or suspense.

As I said at the top, I reviewed Biker Boyz in January of last year. By December, I found that I remembered nothing about it. Torque is likely to make the same non-impact.

( out of four)


Torque is rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, language and drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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