Torque


Robin Clifford 
Torque
Laura Clifford 

It’s fast bikes, hot chicks, high-speed chases and big explosions with a plot that has biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson), framed for the murder of the brother of the leader of the Reapers, country’s most notorious bike gang. Ford has to clear his name, get the FBI off of his tail and try to save his skin…and maybe get the hottest of the hot chicks in “Torque.”

Robin:
Music video maestro Joseph Kahn makes his feature film debut with a script by another newcomer, Matt Johnson, that takes us into territory familiar to anyone who has seen either of the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise or, gods forbid, “Biker Boyz.”

Cary Ford is back in LA after spending six months running the roads in Thailand. After hooking up with his two best buds, Dalton (Jay Hernandez) and Val (Will Yun Lee), they head to a motorcycle rally where Ford spots the reason for his return – Shane (Monet Mazur). The beautiful biker chick runs her own shop in the city and has given up on her old boyfriend but there is still a spark between them.

Ford’s return comes under the scrutiny of the leader of the Hellions gang, Henry James (Matt Schulze), a tough, ruthless drug dealer who Cary ripped off before he disappeared. James left a couple of cycles with Ford six months before without telling him they were loaded with drugs. Ford hid the bikes, informed the FBI and went on the lam. Now, Henry wants his bikes and their crystal meth cargo returned – or else. Meanwhile, FBI agent McPherson (Adam Scott) learns of Ford’s return and plans his arrest, chasing the renegade biker all around Southern Cal in a jet black government HUMV.

When for doesn’t come up with the drugs James decides to get tough and comes up with a plan: kill the brother of rival leader, Trey (Ice Cube), and pin the murder on Ford. Trey and his gang, the Hellions, will, the drug dealer is sure, will take care of the rest. This begins a cat-and-mouse game involving high speed chases and mayhem on the streets of LA as Cary tries to counter the plan and set Henry up for the fall with the FBI. The result is a convoluted but rollicking action flick that is part western (“You’ve got until sundown!” James warns Ford), part revenge flick, part romance and part action video game.

Nobody is going to get any Oscars from their involvement in “Torque” but the corny little movie hits all the right button of its teen and tweenie male audience. There is enough action and adrenalin-charge chases to keep them satisfied and, if not, there are plenty of bodacious babes to catch the eye, too.

There is ample use of computer animation throughout “Torque” and, mostly, it looks pretty good –until the big chase finale. When this pursuit kicks into gear it looks like it was taken directly from a video game. The obvious CGI work replaces any live action stunts and the effect is one of overripe cheese. Suddenly, belief is no longer suspended and the film brings attention to its flaws. I can only think that helmer Kahn and company did this intentionally, though I can’t imagine why. A more thoughtful, real looking approach would have made more sense as the ending falls far short of any potential that was there early on. One would think that the producer of “The Fast and the Furious“ films, Neal Moritz, would stick with a successful formula and not pander to the game boys.

The cast goes through the paces well enough with Martin Henderson playing Ford as smart, tough and with a sense of humor. The young newcomer’s good looks are a cross between a Young Kurt Russell and Brad Pitt and he could make a tidy career as a model. He has a likable on-screen presence that will do him well if he hones his acting skills. Ice Cube is mean looking and surly, as usual, but the actor has the ability to soften these hard edges and put some dimension to the sketchy character of Trey. Monet Mazur holds her own with the mostly male cast, standing toe-to-toe with the toughest.

Supporting cast is a strongpoint in “Torque” with Jay Hernandez and Will Yun Lee putting effective spin on their sidekick characters. Matt Schulze does a good job as ruthless, read-to-kill bad guy Henry James. Jaime Pressly, as China, is a riot as the multi-pierced girlfriend of James's and, like Mazur, stands up to the male characters well. One of the high points of the film is when Shane and China face off in a duel – on really big and fast motorcycles. Adam Scott is also amusing as McPherson, the FBI agent on the case, and proves to be an unscrupulous guy that even J. Edgar Hoover couldn’t love.

Techs are mostly decent, with the exception of the overused and often shoddy CGI.

Boys who love fast bikes and faster chicks are going to have a lot of fun with “Torque” though, even with strong femme characters, this won’t make it as a date flick. It’s a fun, if forgettable, flick and I give it a C+.

Laura:
After a six month stint in Thailand evading a false drug distribution charge, Ford (New Zealander Martin Henderson, "The Ring") has returned to settle his score with the real perpetrator, Hellion gang leader Henry (Matt Schulze, "The Fast and the Furious"), and explain his absence to his bike-maintenance shop owning girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur, "Just Married").  Ford needs the support of his loyal buddies Val (Will Yun Lee, "Die Another Day") and Dalton (Jay Hernandez, "Crazy/Beautiful") after Henry sets him up for the murder of rival Reaper leader Trey's (Ice Cube, "Barbershop") brother Junior (Fredro Starr, "Save the Last Dance").  With F.B.I. Agent McPherson (Adam Scott, "High Crimes") back on his trail as well, Ford's lucky he's got "Torque."

Video director Joseph Kahn jumps right into the action of Matt Johnson's lean and self-aware script and dares his audience to keep up with the fast pace.  The story is nothing new although the frenzied visuals sometimes make it incomprehensible.  "Torque" barely gets by with its genre mockery, hot babes, tough guys and amazing motorcycles, but squeaks by with enough entertainment for the "Fast and Furious" enthusiasts.

Cinematographer Peter Levy ("Lost in Space") starts off well enough establishing vast desert landscapes dotted with truck stops and energy-producing windmills.  Ford rides up to a diner like the man with no name, establishes his mission, engages in fisticuffs and reassembles his posse.  Then "Torque" twists into the familiar of "Fast and Furious" and "Biker Boyz," where bikers rally and babes posture.

Ford rewoos Shane with a motorcycle chase through the crowded streets.  'You were never funny,' Shane retorts to his weak stab at humor.  Moments later, Ford's in a faceoff with Trey, who informs him that he's a very funny guy.  Screenwriter Johnson studs "Torque" throughout with this type of dialogue and scores a couple of times - when Trey's woman speaks her only line of dialogue ("I love you" has rarely had such myriad subtexts) and when Agent McPherson's mid-chase scene "Let's go!" speech's bubble is burst by partner Henderson's (Justina Machado, "Final Destination 2") calm reminder that they have yet to pay for their gas.  The rest of the time, "Torque" goes through genre motions, staging increasingly outlandish chase scenes that finally implode into a conclusion so CGI-heavy it may as well be a video game.  Genre enthusiasts will probably enjoy a catfight between 'good girl'Shane and Henry's goth-punk moll China (Jaime Pressly, "Not Another Teen Movie") where the two practically joust on bikes (shades of Romero's 1981 "Knightriders").

The cast are all game and well suited to their roles.  Relative newcomer Henderson, who resembles a cross between Kurt Russell and a young Baldwin brother, proves tougher than he initially looks and shoulders the film.  Love interest Mazur blends sassy 'tude with a sexy femininity. Yun Lee is a humorously sly laid back ladies' man while Hernandez, stepping back into the mix after his lead "Crazy/Beautiful" breakout, is mostly enthusiastic. The always reliable Cube is solid, although almost upstaged by his charismatic pit bull Dojo. Schulze, sporting a sculpted mullet, is intimidating and Pressly is all sneering nose ring.  Adam Scott gives his F.B.I. guy a goofiness even while he's meaning business.

"Torque" rarely features a cut lasting longer than 10 seconds (editors David Blackburn and Howard E. Smith must have been highly caffeinated), which doesn't give the actors a lot of time to add depth or for Levy to show off - one gets the feeling that stunts are being shored up with distracting magician's tricks.  The heavy metal soundtrack is appropriate if sometimes overwhelming.

While more entertaining than last year's "Biker Boyz," "Torque" ultimately is little more than a showcase for its stylish leatherwear and supercharged hogs, including the rare Y2K (only 10 exist). It goes up in a puff of smoke faster than Ford's exhaust.

C

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