Sunday, 20 June 2010

Torque (2004)

Director: Joseph Kahn

I’m a big fan of the TV show Party Down. I was reading the Adam Scott AV Club interview, which was very self-effacing and funny about the work he’d done prior to the show. I never realised Scott was in Torque, a motorcycle action movie I barely remember being released, which he described thusly:

I think Torque’s hilarious. It’s great if you’re stoned. It’s really weird if you’re stoned, like in a good way, but also in a, “What the fuck, who made this?” way. I think it’s this weird confluence of the studio wanting to make a Fast And The Furious movie and a director who wanted to make fun of Fast And The Furious movies, and those things kind of colliding.

This is how I came to rent out Torque. What’s most apparent is this “weird confluence” where Torque basically makes fun of The Fast & The Furious while being nothing more than a trashy fast-food shitty action movie. First off, there’s the pre-credits opening sequence where two souped-up cars (one red, one yellow) rev up their massive engines and proceed to race each other on a lonely stretch of highway. From behind appears a motorbike ridden by Tom Cruise Junior, sorry, I meant Australia’s own Martin Henderson, who proceeds to beat both cars, zooming by a highway sign that spins around to reveal graffiti written on the back reading, “Cars suck!” Once Tom Cruise Junior arrives at a diner for a pit-stop, he sees the drivers of the two cars picking on the small boy pumping the gas and so he steps in to defend the innocent type, kicking the crap out of these macho jerks with the closing line, “What is it about driving cars that makes you all such assholes?” Later in the movie our hero even repeats one of the classic pieces of dialogue from The Fast & The Furious, “I live my life a quarter mile at a time.” Then his girlfriend (Monet Mazur) quips, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Zing-g-g-g! So yeah, I’m not totally convinced that riding motorcycles makes you less assholish than driving a car, everyone riding a bike poses like they’re in a magazine and acts like they’re in a Kid Rock video. There’s an awesome sequence where the good guys hit some sub-cultural bike fair, which is introduced in a montage of babes ahoy all shaking their butts, washing cars in scantily clad gear and provocatively posed: it’s all butts, butts, butts! This is how the world of underground bike clubs roll. First rule do not talk about underground bike club. Second rule check out the chicks, yo. So, yes, it is somewhat amusingly ironic that this film takes pot-shots at The Fast & The Furious every now and then, even though the only reason a film like Torque was produced was because of the success of the Vin Diesel/Paul Walker movie. What we have then is a silly film that is somewhat self-aware that it is silly, coming off like a live-action Americanised adaptation of a anime series that never existed, all the bike gangs wearing bright colours and all the motorcycle chase sequences overlaid with wirework-meets-CGI backwash from the popularity of The Matrix.

Back to the story of Torque, Henderson plays Cary Ford, a champion race who has returned after a sojurn in Thailand after being wrongly accused of drug-smuggling, the result of becoming mixed up with the evil white trash biker gang leader Henry James (Matt Schulze, a really bad actor who seethes non-stop with creased eyebrows in an attempt to look "dangerous"). I don’t know if the filmmakers intended the chief villain to have the same name as the famed English author as an ironic gesture, but hey, I’m sure the makers of Torque are educated guys who have read The Portrait of a Lady. Henry James and his subordinates, the brutish Luther (Max Beesley) and the slutty (Jamie Pressley with dark hair and black eyeliner, playing the type of biker moll that quivers with desire whenever something violent happens) are out to frame Cary Ford, our hero, because he has hidden their drugs, so they kill the brother of biker gang leader Trey (Ice Cube!) who heads the Biker Boyz known as The Ravens and they pin it on Cary Ford, our hero. So, yes, most of the movie is a chase thriller with Ice Cube wanting to kill the wrong boy while the FBI is also on his trail, led by none other than Adam Scott playing Agent Henderson, who cockily strides in to a crime scene wearing sneakers and a t-shirt under a suit jacket, looking like he should be drumming in Phantom Planet basically. “You expected a straight-laced Fed?” etc.

What will I remember most from watching Torque? Well, one, there is Ice Cube playing Ice Cube basically, a welcome relief after sitting through some of Are We There Yet on TV the week before and seeing Ice Cube playing Bill Cosby. Every scene with Cube is him sneering and being a bad-ass, saying stuff like, “I can smash you right now and your little tricycle...” or “Think you’re man enough to drop that hammer?” Even better during the freeway motorcycle chase car crash extravaganza, which is like a more entertaining version of the one in Matrix Reloaded, Cube zips past the Feds in their Hummer and drops the line, “Fuck the Po-lice!” Genius! I will also think back fondly on the hyperkinetic filmmaking of director Joseph Kahn who always seems to frame actors in reflections of a motorcycle rear-view mirror and has some silly but great over-the-top action sequences like Henderson and Cube chasing each other on motorbikes on top of a moving train, eventually having our hero jump from the top of a carriage INTO the next carriage, driving past nervous passengers. In the climactic chase between Henderson and Henry James, any semblance of reality is completely detached from the proceedings with their bikes zooming through crowded city traffic like they were in Tron, even blowing up the skirt of an attractive model wearing a garter belt and panties (they did the same thing in the Stallone race-car movie, Driven, just one more vicarious thrill for the overheated 13-30-year-old boys who are the target audience). Henderson launches off a truck and lands on Henry James, blowing him up like Ghost Rider and rolling away into the path of an oncoming bus that screeches to a halt just in time, the front tire caressing his face. EXTREME. Even better is the large amount of product placement that occurs in the movie, particularly in the motorcycle cat-fight between Monet Mazur and Jamie Pressley, facing off against giant billboards that might make you imagine it’s a duel between Pepsi and Mountain Dew. (There's also a bar-brawl earlier in the film where some dude knocks another out and snatches his beer, holding it up to the camera to display the Budweiser label innocently). Oh, and of course, there’s a Dane Cook cameo but this was before he was a mega-famous douchebag comedian and he gets punched in the face, so it’s okay, people. Naturally any good-feeling or guilty pleasure you might feel from experience Torque will be tested in the end when our heroes shout, “Let’s ride”, jamming down the highway to a fucking Creed song. Maybe I needed to take Adam Scott’s advice and have been really stoned to receive the full gamut of Torque, though you already receive a contact high from how cartoony and silly and self-conscious it all is, so let's assume the inclusion of a Creed song was either studio interference messing up the screenwriter/director's awesome vision or a satirical comment on the type of douchebag action film that would end with a Creed song. That question, well, I leave you to decide.


s said...

haha! Great review. I was wondering where Adam Scott was going to fit in, part of me hoping for the most ill conceived casting ever with him in a motorcycle gang.. but a sneaker wearing FBI agent is so good.

Also, I saw Are We There Yet?, possibly at the movies (Q?), I think.. he races a train on a horse right? HMM.

tristan said...

Hey thanks, Soda! Haha, yeah, I was wondering whether he would be slicked back punker bike material too. But no, a cocky wise-cracking Fed who turns out to be crooked (oh no!). He's also partnered with Fredrico's wife from Six Feet Under.

Haha, yeah, I saw that scene between horse vs. train. Amazing. That and Ice Cube holding a clear phone conversation to Nia Long while he's racing the train. I couldn't get over the creepy talking bobble-head even though it was voiced by Tracey Morgan!

selena paul said...

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