Torque

Rarely have so many given so much to create a total piece of shit
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Joseph Kahn
Starring: 
Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, Monet Mazur, Adam Scott, Matt Schulze
The Setup: 
The Fast and the Furious, but with motorcycles and no Vin Diesel.
Discussion: 

I had absolutely no interest in seeing this when it was out in theaters, and really absolutely no interest in seeing it otherwise, until a regular reader and message board pen pal told me he had a ball watching it, because it was utterly hilarious in an everything-amped-up-to-11, Con Air kind of way. So to the top of my list it went, then languished on my table until I was in the perfect mood to watch it.

I’m still glad I didn’t see it in the theaters, because there’s a lot I wanted to pause and go slo-mo on. The first shot is of two drag-racing cars on a highway in the desert, with a tortoise on the road between them. They race, then we see there’s a motorcycle behind them, trying to get in between. This is a crotch-rocket style cycle, not a Harley-type cycle. All parties approach speeds of 160MPH. One of the car drivers pushes some button which initiates a CGI-created fly-through of his engine, copped straight from The Fast and the Furious, and out his exhaust pipe. You may notice that for a second the flames are superimposed over the iris of a human eye, which morphs into the tailpipe of the car. The car has merged with the consciousness of its driver, see. Man and machine ARE ONE. Then the bike pulls ahead and race, race, until he blows by a road sign, the wind the bike creates, apparently, causing the road sign to spin in place, an effect pulled straight from a Road Runner cartoon. The upper sign says something like Scarsdale and the lower sign apparently reads “Suck” [they have, it seems, just crossed Suck Street], because as the signs spin the message “Cars Suck” is visible.

We then see the title of the film, and then the biker from the race we just saw pulls up at this diner / gas station smack-dab in the middle of the desert right next to a wind farm. Please do not question how many diners are actually located smack dab in the middle of the desert, with absolutely no other business around, nor how many diners you know of that are also gas stations, but have no visible “gas station” accoutrements aside from pumps. So by now it’s obvious that film bears no relation whatsoever to reality.

So there’s this wind farm—one of those areas with a ton of huge white windmills turning—a’spinning in the background of the majority of the following shots. Because this is one of those movies in which things like character and story and sense do not apply, it’s about the movie experience as a rush unto itself. And as such one of its primary areas of focus is in keeping each frame visually interesting—accomplished in large part here by the spinning windmills in the background. Around now one might stop and marvel at the tremendous amount of visual skill that went into these first few minutes. The director and his team really put a lot of effort and attention to detail into constructing each shot—the collection of which serves as a concise history of “visually intense” mise-en-scene vocabulary. Especially when you consider little details like not just the eye in the exhaust pipe and the message in the spinning street sign, but also the iconic postures of many of the heroes, and the intense speeding camerawork during the chase sequences, or the riding sequence under the main credits. There’s so much visual skill and painstaking attention to detail, and for what? A laughable movie that only made 21 million, got terrible reviews, and is a punchline. It’s somewhat toward the mind-boggling.

So the motorcycle racer pulls up at said diner in the desert and pulls off his helmet. It Martin Henderson, the actor who might as well be Gerard Butler [and vice versa], here named Ford, and wearing a leather jacket that reads “Carpe Diem.” Isn’t it amazing to think that no one knew what that meant before Dead Poet’s Society came out? He says hi to the kid there, then the two cars he was racing against pull up. Out come two hot thugs, lookin’ to rumble, because when Ford passed them on his bike, it made their penises feel really, really small. Inadequate, even. They push the little kid, which forces Ford to act, because he’s our hero and heroes are good, good guys who like kids. He beats the shit out of them in one of those incredibly violent, yet somehow not hurtful, scene in which he smashes a wrench across someone’s skull, yet without harming him. The guys drive off, and Ford’s friends show up. One can’t help but note that they are Latino and Asian. They go for a ride on the desert highway, the camera getting incredible footage as it speeds along with them, often just inches from their wheels. While this happens, we have the credits proper. You may be saying to yourself “wait a minute, we’ve had all these events and discussion topics, and we’ve only now getting to the opening credits?” Well, yeah.

The Latino friend speeds past a bunch of relaxing African-American bikers, one of whom was sleeping on his bike by the side of the road. The Latino biker speeding by him caused him to fall of his bike, which of course is the Latino’s fault. So the aggrieved biker gets up and gives chase, trying to knock down our heroes’ bikes, until an 18-wheeler [virtually the only other traffic on the highway] destroys the black guy's bike. This too is the Latino's fault. He MADE the black guy sleep so close to the road, made him fall off his stationary bike [unquestionably an offense punishable by death], made the black guy come after him in revenge, and thus it is entirely his fault that the bike was destroyed. The 18-wheeler, by the way, has run over the bike, possibly sustaining crippling damage, but decided to just a-keep on truckin'. So the entire black posse of bikers shows up, led by Ice Cube, to posture and snarl and demand that our heroes replace the destroyed bike. There is an entire discussion to be had, but one suspects that although roles like this place an African-American in high prominence, it is questionable as to whether it helps their larger cause to allow themselves to be portrayed as touchy aggressive idiots.

So after we establish the characters of Ice Cube as Trey and his brother [the one who fell off the bike] we can move on to establishing other characters. Our heroes go off to this biker rally, which can also be perceived as a “breast festival,” as it seems to be composed largely of “hot” women in bikinis washing bikes [and getting all wet], having a semi-lesbian interaction on a bike, dousing each other with water, and suchlike. I do suggest that you slow-mo through this part, because it can go by quickly, and one is so used to such sexualization, that it can be good to step back and realize that there really is a sequence of true soft-core porn inserted right in the middle of your PG-13 movie. By the way, there is also a quick shot of a man cutting the straps of a woman’s lace up bikini, presumably to get right to her tits, which she seems delighted about. Once this sequence is over [and two suitable women have offered their sexual services at the first sight of the Asian and Latino sidekicks], Ford goes off to the repair shop of Shane, his ex-GF. Isn’t it kind of funny to think than in 20 years, when the current generation grows up, people really will be named Shane and Ford and Zed and Connor and Shamanda and Payden and suchlike? Then assloads of exposition: Ford stole the bikes of Henry James [not the one who is considered by some to be the finest novelist in the English language], which had crytsal meth in the gas tanks [reference to Easy Rider]. I’ll tell you right now that there are no sequences of anyone freaking out on meth, nor no trailer meth-lab explosions or shootouts, so that’s a disappointment, but this IS a PG-13 movie after all! We can show nubile women as willing sex toys for men, but drugs—that’s crossing the line! Anyway, the Feds came down on Ford and he hid the bikes and took off to Thailand, where presumably he studied Eastern religions and got himself centered, and is now back to “put things right.” So Shane is trying to play it cool but just can’t resist those blue Henderson eyes, until Henry James’ goons show up and it’s time to have a fight. During this sequence we are introduced to the only other prominent female character, who we will come to know as “Tongue Girl,” because in 97.6% of views of her she is sticking her tongue out or licking her lips. It’s quite uncanny. Anyway, Henry James wants his bikes and his drugs back. It’s not too long before we see that Trey refuses to buy or sell drugs for Henry James [because while killing people for ludicrous perceived slights is okay, drugs are WRONG!], which means we know that he and Ford are going to join forces against James at the end.

Then we go to this massive multi-million dollar nightclub in a warehouse/office building in the middle of the desert. This brings up a number of questions: Are there REALLY massive warehouses located right out in the smack dab center of the desert? Seemingly MILES from the nearest civilization? And still more—are there really PEOPLE who would drive miles and miles out into the desert to attend some impromptu nightclub in a warehouse? And finally, are our main characters, from both the Ford and Trey camps, really cool enough to get in if there were? Okay, these are rhetorical questions. No, I don’t believe for a second that these nightclubs exist outside of the movies, or that they’re as well-attended or cool as they appear to be here. Nevertheless, here we are. There’s some hugger-mugger with the Trey-ites getting disrespected by the Ford-ites, then eventually Trey’s brother is killed and Ford is framed for it. Oh, and in here is a massive bar brawl, one of those where someone hits someone else and then suddenly the entire bar starts punching the nearest person—the impression being that they were all primed for a fight, really WANTED a fight, and were just waiting for permission to let it fly. I suspect a reality show, “The Real Fight Club” is in concept stage here.

So it’s time for some quiet time with Shane, wherein you will notice that Ford takes her beer bottle and throws it, shattering the glass, less than one minute before he throws his own beer bottle. Dude is a public menace. There should be some state-sponsored class to teach him to express his “devil-may-care, live-for-today” attitude in ways less costly to modern tires—such as the ones he has on his own bike, for instance. Monet Mazur is Shane, and she is quite pretty, and suggests a Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque air of being much smarter than the material she is working with [I should clarify that I am in no way talking about SMG’s work on Buffy]. Anyway, Tongue Girl acts as James’ witness that Ford killed Trey’s brother [the fact that Shane is a witness for the other side is mentioned but dropped], and we start to involve this cocky FBI guy with disastrous hair who is as annoying a person as he is to look at. He was the one after Ford back in the day, and he’s still after him. He has a straightforward black partner who he is a total asshole to. So they’re around, but Trey and company plan to find Ford first and deal some vigilante biker justice.

We now head into the “chase through the palms” sequence, in which we discover that there are large groves of symmetrically-planted palm trees growing in the middle of the desert. I would love to know what planet this is supposed to be taking place on. Anyway, while the credit sequence evoked the lightcycle thing from Tron, this part is a direct descendant of the forest chase from Return of the Jedi, with all the cycles speeding through the trees and crashing into them. Then Ford and Trey emerge from the other side of the pointless grove and happen upon a passing train. As there just happens to be a grain loader parked next to the tracks, in the middle of the desert, they use that to ride their cycles onto the top of the train, as anyone would naturally do. As they ride forward atop the train, you will notice for the first time that modern passenger trains are designed with little ramps at the front end of each car to facilitate handy jumping from one car to the next. Thanks, Amtrak! Ford is such an accomplished biker that he is able to stop his bike in the tiny space between trains, surely not more than a few inches larger than his bike, and drop down to passenger level, whereupon he rides through the car, filled with passengers, as Trey rides on top. This is one of those scenes which I’m beginning to notice, quite notable in things like The Cannonball Run, in which the potential death and dismemberment of innocent bystanders is perceived to be FUCKIN' AWESOME! No one DOES ever get an arm ripped off or a child killed, but the potential is there, and that is treated as both swWEEET and entirely understandable, since Ford is trying to escape Trey and the law and recover the evidence that will clear his name. So I’m sure that, should a young couple’s only child be mangled under Ford’s wheels as he charges through their metroliner, they’d be entirely supportive, once they found out what the context was.

Ford gets off the train just as handily [and magically] as he got on, but Trey ends up stuck to his bike right on the tracks, so Ford goes over to save him. He pulls Trey off, but Trey’s bike explodes, throwing them both in either direction, though without injuring them in any way. The train also proceeds entirely unharmed from running over a motorcycle and weathering a massive explosion. That’s American quality, right there.

Around this time the thought occurred: “How stupid do you have to be to think this movie is awesome?” There must be someone out there. This may be the follow-up study to my recently commissioned research work: “How stupid do you have to be to like Van Helsing?” I also had the patentable idea that a movie like this, with its head buried deep in girls, guns, cycles and speed, might as well just have strippers on the sides of the screen throughout its running time. Why not?

Ford and his cru re-team and break the lock on, then load their motorcycles into, an 18-wheeler whose driver doesn’t notice a thing. They travel all night until they encounter a roadblock presided over by a trooper who wears his sunglasses as night so he can, so he can, let them pass through unhindered. Until the morning, wherein they are stopped by the poorly-styled FBI agent, necessitating a daring freeway chase. Please be aware that rogue FBI agents WILL smash headlong into two cars of innocent passengers while trying to apprehend perceived felons. That’s okay, they’re jut trying to uphold the law. They even drink a prominent Diet Pepsi as they are expressing their wanton disregard for human life.

SPOILERS > > > Then Ford meets Trey on a deserted freeway overpass just outside L.A. and displays his stuffed crotch while earning the black man’s trust. They repair to some warehouse where the stolen bikes are and wait for the metrosexual rogue FBI agent. He shows up WITH Henry James, who has thoughtfully donned leather pants with a lace-up crotch for the occasion. Can you believe the FBI guy has been corrupt this whole time? I could not fuckin' BELIEVE IT. Maybe that would explain the bad hair initiation ritual he seems to be enduring, as crime king James also sports an unfortunate mane that looks as though his stylist suffered an epileptic fit while holding the clippers. Perhaps bad hair is the defiant emblem of the outlaw biker set. That’s why I can’t fit in with them! My hair is too good! That and my obsession with their lace-up leather crotches, I guess.

After some shots fired we need to have one more big chase, which happens again at great peril to innocent human life as James and Ford zoom at speeds that can only be fully realized in an all CGI environment. But before this you with catch a rare recorded glimpse of a religious phenomenon believers refer to as “Spontaneous Sunglasses,” wherein a true knight of the road generates a pair of stylish sunglasses simply through the rigor of his motorcycle training. If you look carefully and perhaps frame-by-frame around 1:12:37, you will note that Ford leaps on his bike and starts it, and somewhere in the space of less than a second he’s suddenly got a pair of sunglasses on. It truly is a miracle.

So while Ford and Edith Wharton’s best friend are off on their CGI chase, it’s time for a moto-bitch-fight. You must surely be aware that if there’s a heroine and a female villain in a movie, they will be required to fight each other, even if there are male heroes/villains they could fight. First they issue lame threats while subtly placed near one of the ever-so-delicately positioned product placements that have been seamlessly integrated into the story as to be virtually unnoticable [above]. And you know, I TOTALLY bet they wouldn’t even be there at all if it wasn’t completely necessary to even, like, understand what this story is about in the first place. So they have their ludicrous fight and tongue girl is bested, big shocker, then on to the all-CGI motorcycle chase.

The all-CGI motorcycle chase is a big mistake to end the movie with, as one thing that hasn’t been fully mastered yet is the ability to give CGI objects some weight, to make them look like they’re actually THERE, so in this case, after all the build-up of the movie, we end it by basically watching a screensaver. The whole sense of speed is lost as well, as everything is blurry and it’s difficult to have a real sense that anything is happening. During this time Ford does a somersault on his bike in mid-air, which somehow I doubt the reality of. Much of it is hard to understand, but the ending, when Ford conquers Henry James, is such a mish-mash of blurs and bikes and explosions that it is absolutely incomprehensible. To this day I have no real clear sense of what happened.
< < < SPOILERS END

Back to the visual interest, one notices that after the first half hour it dies down a lot, with only a few flashes here and there to give it the sense that it’s still going on. I was having a great time for the first hour, but by the end I was just worn down and wishing it would end. But as I said, I think the people who are really into this kind of movie view it as an experience, like going to an amped-up movie and watching it and then going out afterward [to da club? To your best friend’s parents basement where the XBox is?] is all part of the experience, therefore if it’s shorter than two hours one might feel cheated. Not me, man. If this had been a trim 90 minutes I would be far more generous toward it. Cut us some slack here, guys.

Should you watch it: 

If you know what you’re getting in for.