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Torque literally bursts with pure exultation in cinema—minus all that plot and acting nonsense

Torque literally bursts with pure exultation in cinema—minus all that plot and acting nonsense

I don’t expect anyone to believe me when I say that there is more crazy love of cinema, more undiluted exultance in speed and color and image, in every frame of a lunkhead spectacle called Torque than in a dozen Best Picture winners I could name off the top of my head. As evidence, all I have to offer is the movie: 90 breathless minutes of zooming bikes, flying bikes, crashing bikes and, for variety, the occasional airborne Hummer or fire-engulfed train. Yet it’s not the movie’s mayhem that’s unusual, so much as its exhilaration, its determination to make the best bike-busting, car-crashing, train-burning movie of all time.

Forget plot. The plot of Torque—good biker gets framed for murder, sets a trap for the bad drug-dealing biker—takes up less screen time than you’d need to scrawl “The Warriors on bikes” on a napkin. Forget acting. The forgettable hero, Martin Henderson, follows a recent trend of top-billed (white) pretty boys who leave a second (usually non-white) in command of the movie. In this case it’s Ice Cube, whose surly swagger fits the role of a gang leader avenging his brother’s strangulation by bike chain. Forget dialogue, although I can’t believe it’s taken this long in Ice Cube’s movie career for him to deliver the line, “Fuck the police.”

In place of those niceties, Torque does its damnedest to bounce your skull off the blacktop at Concorde velocity, using video game graphics that would once have been anathema to the gearhead genre. Normally, this bothers me in vehicle movies. This time, I was too busy searching for my eyeballs somewhere in the parking lot. Bikes whip in and out of traffic in a supersonic blur that slams you back in your seat. Like the motocross scene in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, the movie embraces the unreality of its CGI work, figuring that if you’re going to digitally fake two women on motorcycles, you might as well have them cat-fight, back-flip and joust in midair.

Where car and biker movies of the ’70s were often marked by the real physical detail around them—think of the backroads diner and gas station captured for the ages in Two-Lane Blacktop—the world of Torque is all pixels. The fakeness allows the first-time director, music-video vet Joseph Kahn, to fill every frame with hell-for-leather visual hotdogging. In one shot, the camera pursues two bikers with a train bearing down on them, then plunges below the tracks through the purportedly solid rock underneath. Implausible? Yes, but consistently implausible—you can’t accuse the movie of violating its rules.

There isn’t a shot in the movie that’s tossed off or phoned in. The cinematographer, Peter Levy, appears to have sandpapered the finish off the images, then dunked them in Day-Glo colors for a look that’s at once gritty and psychotropic. And yet Torque has none of the ponderousness of a musclehead actioner like Bad Boys II. Where your typical Bruckheimer/Bay joint imposes like a cathedral of Velveeta built to worship Velveeta, this never pauses for breath. Producer Neal H. Moritz comes by his trash-movie aesthetic honestly. His dad devised genius exploitation campaigns back in the day for American International biker movies, and Torque, like Moritz’s Fast and Furious diptych, seems stripped of any element Pop couldn’t cram onto a poster.

Sure, these qualities are not the only things movies have to offer, nor should they be. There’s an affecting, unfairly maligned Vincent Gallo motorcycle movie called The Brown Bunny that concentrates solely on the hero’s emotional isolation, and its morose contemplation of every swipe of a rainswept windshield is just as cinematic, in an entirely different way. But I hate to see movies like Torque—high-octane genre pictures that deliver on their lowbrow ambitions, and then some—dismissed just because they’re more interested in the interstate than in any inner state. Sometimes in a motion picture, motion and pictures are captivating enough.

—Jim RidleY


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