THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Some movies want to be original, and some movies just want to be other movies. Pearl Harbor, for instance, followed the exact same formula as Titanic, to much lesser effect. Biker Boyz, on the other hand, wants to be The Fast and the Furious. A few small changes have been made here and there (you know, so nobody will sue) but this is essentially the same film, minus the entertainment value. Ripping off other pictures is, of course, as old as Hollywood, but rarely does a movie do it so ineptly. Watch the two side-by-side to see just how well-done F&F really was.

Humorously described in the press notes as "an action-packed contemporary Western on wheels with desperados who live every day on the edge," Biker Boyz is set in the world of underground motorcycle racing. Derek Luke (showing none of the charisma he displayed in Antwone Fisher) stars as Kid, a stereotypically talented-but-untrained racer who yearns to get accepted into one of California's biker clubs. After his father (a wisely uncredited Eriq LaSalle) is killed while watching a race, Kid develops a grudge against so-called "King of Cali" Smoke (Laurence Fishburne). Smoke is an undefeated legend who heads up a biker club known as the Black Knights, and Kid's father was his mechanic.

Born to be mild: the race is on in the insufferable Biker Boyz
None of the clubs really want Kid in their midst, so he teams up with another racer named Stuntman (Brendan Fehr) to start a new club called, naturally, the Biker Boyz. In order to get the club officially recognized, he must appeal to the Council of Bikers, a collection of gang leaders who comprise a weird type of black leather star chamber. Smoke is on the board, as is another rival: Dogg (Kid Rock), president of the Strays. Kid must approach them respectfully and request their blessing. The scene is ridiculous because it's played with all the seriousness of that scene from The Godfather in which the guy comes asking for a favor on the day Don Corleone's daughter gets married. Nonetheless, this new group is sanctioned and Kid begins the process of winning enough races so that he can challenge Smoke. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Biker Boyz goes wrong on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start. One problem is that there's not a single likable - or even memorable - character in it. Half of the film's characters are never even properly introduced. We have no idea who they are. We don't even know some of their names. Lisa Bonet, for example, appears at the beginning of the movie. She has no apparent purpose for being there. About halfway through, we kind of get the idea that she's Smoke's girlfriend, yet she still seems as irrelevant as ever. Then there's Soul Train (Orlando Jones), another of the Black Knights. We are stunned to eventually learn that he's an attorney. And how do we find this out? Kid gets arrested and needs a lawyer. All of a sudden, this unexplained biker who has been wandering the perimeter of the film is revealed to be a lawyer - at the exact moment the screenplay needs him to be. This is sloppy writing.

Even Kid and Smoke - the two central characters - are underdeveloped. Laurence Fishburne is a fine actor, but he has nothing to do other than grimace a lot. Derek Luke, meanwhile, is forced to utter the most cliched urban dialogue imaginable (e.g. "Man, why you trippin'?"). The Fast and the Furious, while no masterpiece of characterization, at least had Vin Diesel radiating energy. He was the beating pulse of that film; Biker Boyz just flatlines.

Not even the racing scenes make up for it. In fact, they're surprisingly dull. There's no passion behind them. F&F was a car fetish movie; it loved the automobiles and the speed and the danger of racing. This movie could care less about motorcycles. It approaches the subject almost clinically. Yes, the bikes can go fast. Yes, a good rider can do a wheelie on the front tire as well as the back. So what? Nothing here depicts the reason why people want to go so fast on something they can so easily wipe out on. Or why it's so desirable to belong to one of these biker clubs in the first place. We never even fully understand why Kid is so intent on "calling out" Smoke in the first place.

The plot trudges forward slowly as Kid's mother makes a "surprise" revelation that only fuels his desire to beat Smoke. The conclusion is, for some inexplicable reason, filmed like a Western. It takes place on the dirt road surrounding a farmer's field. The Biker Boyz and the Black Knights line up on the field facing each other. An intermediary is dispatched from both sides to issue demands on how the race will be conducted. I half expected John Wayne to ride in on a Harley and order everyone to circle the troops. Then the showdown begins. Here's one area where the movie actually surprised me. (SPOILER ALERT!) Anyone who has seen a movie before can probably guess who wins the race. However, something happens that very strongly suggests that the winner did not actually deserve to win. In other words, we spend an hour and a half being told that Kid is reaching his full potential, only to discover that Smoke has to let him win. What a cop out.

Biker Boyz bored me nearly to tears. It is the kind of vacuous, brain-dead movie that moves at an interminable pace. I felt every single minute of its too-long running time. The preview screening I attended was filled with real-life bikers, who at least seemed to get some pleasure out of looking at the motorcycles. The two young guys sitting right next to me - who were not bikers - boisterously made fun of the movie the whole time. I was just about to ask them to be quiet when I realized that their sarcastic comments were more entertaining than anything in the film itself. That's how bad it is.

( out of four)

Biker Boyz is rated PG for violence, sexual content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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