Dir: Joseph Kahn. US. 2003. 81 mins.
Torque sets out to do with motorbikes what The Fast And The Furious did with cars - only this time the B-movie sensibility comes with a self-mocking tone and a more pronouncedly pop video visual style. It all makes for a fast-paced (just 81 minutes), preposterously scripted and enjoyably trashy burst of action, the kind of thing that could well spark the enthusiasm of younger, male-led multi-ethnic audiences. Even with a mostly little-known cast, Warner, which launches the film in the US this weekend, should certainly be able to achieve a better domestic showing than DreamWorks did this time last year with its similarly targeted Biker Boyz. The studio and co-producer/distributor Village Roadshow may also be able to clock up some decent theatrical totals in the international marketplace. Video and DVD performance looks set to be strong worldwide.
Shifting from four wheels to two, The Fast And The Furious producer Neal Moritz here recruits in-demand pop video director Joseph Kahn to steer the action and up-and-coming New Zealander Martin Henderson (Skagerrak, The Ring) to star.
Henderson's Cary Ford is a roguish biker who has crossed drug dealer and vicious gang leader Henry (Schulze, from The Fast And The Furious). Framed for the murder of another gang member, Cary, his no nonsense girlfriend (Mazur, from Just Married) and two biker buddies (Hernandez and Lee) end up racing across the California desert trying to evade Henry, rival bike gang leader Trey (Ice Cube) and the FBI.
While it never shies away from biker cliche - a rally sequence that plays like a sexed up beer commercial typifies the approach - the film quite stylishly updates the biker image. The motorcycles here are brightly painted street versions of racing 'superbikes' rather than the chrome covered choppers of the 1960s and 1970s. And the riders, male and female, are mostly decked out in colourful figure-hugging bodysuits rather than greasy denim and black leather.
The script, the first from writer Matt Johnson to be produced, offers up some laughably hackneyed moments but redeems itself with touches of knowing humour ("I live my life a quarter mile at a time," says Cary. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," his girlfriend snaps back.).
Kahn brings an array of music video techniques to the movie, using a number of different looks (sometimes within a single scene) and seeking out odd camera angles. The big action set pieces - among them a bike chase over the carriages of a moving train - lack visceral impact (perhaps because of some rather clumsy-looking CG enhancements) but partially compensate with energy and inventiveness. The climatic bike chase through the streets of LA takes the influence of video games to a new level, seeming at times (and apparently by design) to morph into a video game itself.
Among the ethnically inclusive cast, Henderson gets the just about right balance between shaggy charm and biker-boy mystique and Ice Cube effectively snarls his way through most of the action before turning good-guy at the end. Mazur is enjoyable as Cary's tough-minded love interest and, with Pressly's rival girlfriend, she provides the film with one of its more unusual and entertaining action sequences.
Prod cos: Warner Bros Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures
US dist: Warner
Int'l dist: Village Roadshow (Aust/NZ, Cyp, Gr, Sing), Warner (rest of world)
Exec prods: Michael Rachmil, Graham Burke, Bruce German
Prods: Neal H Moritz, Brad Luff
Scr: Matt Johnson
Cinematography: Peter Levy
Prod des: Peter J Hampton
Eds: Howard E Smith, David Blackburn
Music: Trevor Rabin
Main cast: Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, Monet Mazur, Adam Scott, Matt Schulze, Jaime Pressly, Jay Hernandez