Judge Patrick Bromley reviews the film that makes your average Michael Bay film look like Solaris.
Biker Cary Ford lives to ride. Now he's riding to live.
Because we didn't learn our lesson with Biker Boyz.
Facts of the Case
The plot of Torque—and I use the term generously—involves three sets of biker gangs: the Good One, the Bad One, and the Black One, chasing one another down California highways in pursuit of…I don't know…drugs? Hair gel? The Black gang, led by Ice Cube (Boyz N' the Hood, Three Kings) in a state of perpetual snarl, is angry at the Good gang, led by The Ring's forgettable Martin Henderson—who hasn't met a Pose he doesn't like—for supposedly killing Ice Cube's brother. All Henderson wants is too ride his bike, look pretty, and get back with his ex, Shane (Monet Mazur, The Learning Curve). Somewhere in the mix are some vials of crystal meth (hidden in motorcycles, of course), a mullet, some S&M, an all-too-trendy FBI agent (who I would accuse of ripping off Johnny Depp's agent in Once Upon A Time in Mexico if I didn't know this film was shot over a year ago), and Jaime Pressly's white-trash-blonde-vixen-roles-be-damned, tattooed-and-pierced-but-equally-white-trash biker chick, whose performance literally consists of nothing but sticking her tongue out (I'm pretty sure I only counted two lines of spoken dialogue).
About 25 minutes into Torque, the newest entry into the video game/music video/beer commercial school of filmmaking (you know, where pretty much everything comes with a "whooshing" sound effect?), the wife-to-be turns to me and asks:
"Why is it that we're more forgiving of some '80s movies that we know are corny?"
I thought about it for a few seconds and responded, "Because their heart is in the right place."
"And this movie's isn't?"
"This movie is soulless."
And there you have it. Torque, sponsored by Budweiser and Pepsi (see it and you'll understand) is soulless. It's not a movie—it's an assemblage of shots that, unlike even typically hollow Michael Bay fare (which, although choppily edited and glossy as all hell, usually attempt to tell a story—even if that story does involve the World's Best Deep Core Driller), truly add up to nothing. That this is director Joseph Kahn's first film should come as no surprise—it's filled with the style-versus-substance flourishes consistent with our new class of directors graduating from music videos; the film plays like a demo reel for costume and production design. The last 10 minutes or so are literally a video game—not in the metaphoric sense that plot and character are abandoned for the sake of a shootout, but in that there is literally no tangible set or actor present. The entire image is computer generated. We're watching a cartoon.
It's the Cinema of Cool Shots, where nearly every aspect of a successful narrative film is sacrificed for the sake of looking cool. Story logic and audience involvement don't matter, as long as it's a Cool Shot. Can't tell what the hell is going on? Too bad—look at that Cool Shot! Why does the camera go through the motorcycle and out that guy's mullet without ever traveling through his body? Doesn't matter. It's a Cool Shot. Why is it that I've watched this movie three times now and I'm still not sure when or how several characters are killed? Because of all the Cool Shots! Cools Shots do not a feature length movie make—not even one as mercifully short (84 minutes, the length of most Disney cartoons) as this. Cool Shots are for trailers.
Movies like Torque exist for DVD, because the format can deliver the outstanding picture and sound quality that the film solely depends on to succeed. Warner Brothers's disc does just that, providing an excellent presentation of a mediocre film. Despite some minor edge enhancement, the 2.35:1 transfer looks pristine, with the film's bright color palette (for all of its faults, the movie is really colorful) popping beautifully. The 5.1 audio track makes the film's aggressively obnoxious sound design, well, aggressively obnoxious—the bikes literally race around your living room, and if you like that sort of thing, this is the disc for you. As far as extras go, there's a pair of commentary tracks—the first, from director Kahn and what seems to be the entire cast (save for Ice Cube), is light on information but proves to be far more entertaining than the film itself. The group goofs on themselves, on each other, and on the film, and the good time they're having is sort of infectious. There is, however, a prevailing notion (mostly put forth by Kahn…KAAAHNNNNN!!!) that if you don't like the film, then you "just don't get it." Well, I resent that idea—I'm pretty sure my tastes are equally high and low-brow enough that I could have appreciated the film if it were at all successful with its intentions, and I refuse to accept the idea that because I didn't like it there's something wrong with me. The second commentary, from Kahn and the creative team, is a lot more informative, but a lot more technical and dry as well. There are also some animatics for the film's two big set pieces, a music video (indistinguishable from the film), and a couple of trailers.
So, I just didn't get it, right? I shouldn't be looking for plot or character development in a film called Torque, right? I shouldn't expect even a single line of intelligent, or clever, or funny, or at least quotable dialogue, right? I should just sit back and enjoy the ride? Well, to hell with that. I enjoy good crap as much as the next guy—I'm actually a big fan of the one that started this god-awful trend of gearhead movies, Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious. But there's a world of difference between TFATF and Torque—TFATF was at least sincere despite all of its obvious cheese. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez had actual charisma. It had actual cars and actual humans doing actual stunts. The Fast and the Furious is good crap; Torque is just crap.
On a recent installment of Ebert & Roeper, the great Roger Ebert stated that "Life is too short for movies that are just 'okay.'" Torque could only wish it were that good.
All parties are found Guilty and sentenced to Life without bronzer, stubble, soft drinks, or Kid Rock. That'll show 'em.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Director/Cast Commentary
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