Los Angeles Times

Movie review: 'Torque'

Chicago Tribune Movie Critic

1-1/2 stars (out of 4)

"Torque," an outlaw motorcycle thriller from the producer who brought you "The Fast and the Furious," is another high-tech, lowbrow action special for the run-and-gun teen crowd. Blisteringly fast and staggeringly silly, it's a movie made by people who seem to have chuckled up their sleeves as they shot the picture and expect to laugh all the way to the bank afterwards.

They had me for about 10 minutes. Then the energy and novelty of first-time feature director Joseph Kahn's visually inventive, rock-'em-sock-'em video style began to wear thin and the sheer face-slamming absurdity of the story kicked in. Permanently. "Torque," a biker movie that would have been much better as a tongue-in-cheek TV ad, stars Martin Henderson and Ice Cube as rival bikers trapped in both vicious conflict and yet another completely predictable, madly illogical script given the super-glitz treatment. It's about a three-cornered L.A. biker gang/drug ring feud.

At the top of the "Torque" hunk pack is New Zealand actor Henderson as roguish, sexy biker Cary Ford, with the constantly scowling Cube as surly Inglewood gang combatant Trey. These two clash early on a California desert road after Cary and his hot-to-trot comrades, Dalton (Jay Hernandez) and Val (Will Yun Lee), accidentally knock Trey's hothead gang brother off his bike. But the real vendetta gets under way when we discover that Cary has been hiding out for months after somebody slipped a load of crystal meth into some motorcycle gas tanks, setting Cary up for a fall and damaging his relationship with girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur).

That somebody is Henry James, played by Matt Schulze of "Fast and Furious." Not only is this evil dude named after a famous British novelist, but he is also guilty of murder, framing, drug-running and having both an equally evil girlfriend (Jaime Pressly as China) and an apparent Kiefer Sutherland sneer complex.

Meanwhile, a weird character named Ferguson shows up. As played by Martin Scott, he behaves like a motormouth Hollywood agent or publicist with a cocaine habit and contract problems. But actually, he and his comically bickering partner, Henderson (Justina Machado), are supposed to be FBI agents investigating the case. Like everybody else, they end up in a series of outlandish chases, flips and addle-brained double-crosses.

There's a story here, and it's the kind that seems to have been scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin or concocted from a flow chart of previous movies.It's an emptily opportunistic show where young hunks and sexpots, some with good credentials, strut their stuff looking for better assignments elsewhere, and the filmmakers try to justify the idiocy of their story (to any adults who may have wandered in) with some high visual style and self-kidding humor.

"Torque" may be full of hot young actors and expensive choppers - with the characters driving an Aprilia Mille RSV, a cobalt-blue Triumph TT600 and Honda RC5s and CBR 954s - but it's a disgrace to the memory of "The Wild One" and "Easy Rider." It's a movie in which most of the bikers and their old ladies seem to be auditioning for Calvin Klein or Mitsubishi ads, and the few visibly attempting to act are mostly imitating somebody else. (That includes Ice Cube, who seems to be doing a bad Ice Cube impersonation.)

Meanwhile, all the action scenes are doomed if strenuous attempts to copy or outdo Sergio Leone's Westerns, George Miller's "Mad Max" movies, William Friedkin's freeway or El chases, or producer Neal Moritz's "Fast and the Furious" franchise. (They're closer to "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle.")

"Torque," like its title, suggests something running around in circles. It may entertain you if you don't mind senseless stories and screaming soundtracks, but it also demonstrates that costars Henderson and Cube might have been better off (if financially poorer) spending this time in New Zealand or at the Barbershop.

Directed by Joseph Kahn; written by Matt Johnson; photographed by Peter Levy; edited by Howard E. Smith, David Blackburn; production designed by Peter J. Hampton; music by Trevor Rabin; visual effects supervised by Eric Durst; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Brad Luff. A Warner Brothers Pictures release; opens Friday, Jan. 16. Running time: 1:21. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence, sexuality, language and drug references).
Cary Ford - Martin Henderson
Trey - Ice Cube
Shane - Monet Mazur
FBI Agent McPherson - Adam Scott
Henry James - Matt Schulze
China - Jaime Pressly

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