Torque (2004)

Torque first published by Movie Gazette (that was 2004 – I now disown the expression ‘guilty pleasure’)

Review: Kurt Russell has devoted an entire career to being something of an also-ran in the world of cinematic heroes. He may be cleverer than Arnold Schwarzenegger, taller than Sylvester Stallone, and more articulate than the pair of them, but when those two were vying for supremacy in the 1980s, Russell barely got a look in – even though his collaborations with John Carpenter in The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China are works of B-grade genius. So it seems fitting that Martin Henderson, star of Joseph Kahn’s enjoyably derivative motorcycle caper Torque, should look, sound and strut just like poor undervalued Russell. For while Torque is no doubt destined to be lost in the exhaust trail left by The Fast and the Furious2 Fast, 2 Furious and Biker Boyz, it in fact takes the piss out of, and pisses all over, the lot of them.

Six months ago, biker Cary Ford (Henderson) skipped town after inadvertently discovering, stealing and hiding a large stash of crystal meth owned by tough gangleader Henry James (Matt Schulze), but now Ford has returned to ‘make things right’ and get back together with his girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur). James frames Ford for the murder of Junior (Fredro Starr), who just happens to be the kid brother of rival gangleader Trey (Ice Cube), and Ford soon finds himself and his friends being pursued by the police, the gangs of James and Trey, and a pair of Federal Agents. Cue lots of high-octane chases and crotch-warming confrontations, coming to an intense series of climaxes on the busy streets of LA.

Opening with two nitrous-injected cars racing each other through the California desert, only to be easily overtaken by Ford on his motorbike (who insists that he is just passing through), Torque lets you know right from the outset of its intention to outdo the accelerated automobile antics of The Fast and the Furious – or as the inappropriately named Ford puts it, “What is it about driving cars that makes you all such assholes?”. Most of the film’s dialogue is ridiculous – it is, after all, called Torque, not Talk – but it is self-conscious enough to get away with its own ironised idiocy. When Ford, for example, rejects all the good advice from his friends about fleeing to Mexico, or at least ditching his bike and laying low, with the words, “I’d rather be fast and visible: I live my life by a quarter mile at a time”; yet the scene does not end there, but instead with Shane responding “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Dumb indeed – but also, rather more cleverly, a direct quote from Vin Diesel’s character in The Fast and the Furious – and so idiocy becomes parody.

What this film lacks in plausible plotting it more than makes up for with sheer, breakneck speed and gravity-defyingly preposterous stunts. There are bikes racing on top of (and through) a passenger train, there’s a chase through a thick forest of palm trees (riffing – or ripping – off the dash through the Ewok woods in Return of the Jedi), there’s a destructive cat-and-mouse game on a freeway that more than lives up to the standards set by Matrix Reloaded and Bad Boys 2, and the LA finale is so eye-bogglingly fast as to be almost subliminal.

Full of dumb-assed, diesel-fueled delirium, Torque is a true guilty pleasure. Try as you might, it proves impossible to dislike a film that has the old-school audacity to end with the line “Let’s ride”, followed by a departure into a clichéd sunset.

Summary: Joseph Kahn’s over-amped, parodic biker-boy race movie comes gassed up as much on irony as on dumb-assed, diesel-fueled delirium

Anton Bitel