When Judge Gordon Sullivan's motorcycle broke down, he had a Hell Walk.
The Rebellion Against All There Is.
Hell Ride had so much potential. The trailer made it look like Grindhouse: Version 2.0, like Kill Bill meets Death Proof by way of Easy Rider. Genre stalwarts like Michael Madsen, David Carradine, and Mr. Easy Rider himself, Dennis Hopper, anchor a cast which also includes a bevy of bountiful bombshells. Plus, there are big guns and righteous choppers. Too bad it's all for naught. Instead of offering a full-throttle tale of the three B's (Bikes, Babes, and Booty), Hell Ride gives viewers a muddled murder mystery, lame dialogue, and surprisingly little in the way of vicarious thrills.
Facts of the Case
Pistolero (writer/director/producer Larry Bishop) is the president of the Victors, whose members include The Gent (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs) and Comanche (Eric Balfour, Secondhand Lions). The gang has some unfinished business with the Six Six Sixers, led by the vicious Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones, Snatch) over the death of a woman in 1976.
After watching Hell Ride, I'm convinced it got made because writer/director/star Larry Bishop was having trouble in the relationship department. The entirety of Hell Ride seems to revolve around getting his character Pistolero into situations where women are going to get naked for him. I'm generally fine with gratuitous nudity, but there's something about the situations in Hell Ride that seem pre-planned to give Bishop's ego a boost as numerous women fawn all over his scruffy biker persona.
Copious nudity aside, the situations in Hell Ride are only tenuously connected to a larger narrative. Or, I should say that the scenes are deliberately edited so that they seem pointless because Hell Ride's story is paper thin. A woman is murdered, and thirty years later it's finally time for revenge. Rather than simply telling this story, Bishop offers us a number of unnecessary flashbacks (think Tarentino-lite) that make the narrative infinitely more confusing than it needs to be. A film that bills itself as a "lean, mean mayhem machine" shouldn't take over half its running time to introduce the point of the narrative. If the narrative is thin, character motivation is even more so. Pistolero, The Gent, and Comanche are constantly at each other's throats during the film, but it's very difficult to understand why (or really even to care).
The narrative and characters are bad, but the dialogue is even worse. The highlight of the film for me was an almost-Dada level moment from Michael Madsen. While sitting in a tree, he blows air over a beer bottle, making it hoot. He then says "I'm an owl." When a veteran character actor blowing into a beer bottle and calling himself an owl is the height of the dialogue, you know a movie is in trouble. Much like the narrative, the dialogue also feels like Tarentino-lite. While on peyote, a woman claims something is sexy and existential, so it must be "sexistential," and Michael Madsen gets a paean to dust.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To my knowledge, the biker film has pretty much died out as a genre after its Brando-inspired heyday. As with most trends, I'm guessing there's still a large audience out there who desperately want new chopper flicks. For that crowd, Hell Ride might do the trick. There's some good violence (including a guy who shoots arrows out of a CO2 powered harpoon-gun device), some very sweet rides, and plenty of hell-raisin' (including the aforementioned women who are all hot for Larry Bishop). Seeing Dennis Hopper ride again has its own nostalgic charm as well.
Despite my general dislike of the film, I have nothing but praise for this Blu-ray disc. The film is presented in a very clean hi-def transfer that looks blessedly free of compression or color problems. This isn't a reference disc, but the saturated desert-inspired look of the film is well served. Detail was pretty high throughout, as all the crags in Larry Bishop's face stood out in bold relief. The audio is equally effective. The soundtrack had a nice bottom end, and pistol fire cracked appropriately. Dialogue remained well-balanced.
The extras are also pretty extensive for the type of film. Larry Bishop teams with is director of photography for a commentary track filled with production info. There are also short featurettes that cover the actors (male and female), the bikes, and the general making of Hell Ride. There's also a video diary that follows Michael Madsen. He's a fun guy, but I don't see it getting a lot of repeat viewings. Finally, there's the film's trailer.
Fans of biker films and testosterone-laden action flicks will likely find something to enjoy in Hell Ride, even if it isn't a classic. Everyone else, especially those lured just by the Grindhouse-style trailer, are urged to avoid this muddled genre effort.
Hell Ride is guilty of not living up to its potential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• Audio Commentary with Larry Bishop and DP Scott Kevan
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