By Eric Meyerson
And a brand is born.
Torque, a ridiculous yarn about biker gangs in California's high desert, bears all the absurd CGI-enhanced action, groaner dialogue, and gash-ridden plots of Neal H. Moritz's aforementioned prior productions, but for the first hour at least, it almost works. Sadly, the final act then disintegrates into a spine-rattling mess of crashes, gun blasts, detonations, and "How the hell did they survive that?"
The striking Martin Henderson (previously seen being stalked by a TV phantom in The Ring) credibly pulls off the hero role as Clay "Ford" Ford, an independent biker who returns to the Mojave sands after hiding from the FBI in Thailand for six months. Ford has come back to rekindle the romance with his girlfriend Shane (the alluringly-named Monet Mazur), a bike repair goddess who took the brunt of Ford's flight from the law. Ford also hooks up with his two buddies (Will Yun Lee and crazy/beautiful's Jay Hernandez) to settle the score with a bad-ass named "Henry James" (no, really), the drug-smuggling leader of the Hellions gang.
Meanwhile, Ford's also gotten on the wrong side of Trey (Ice Cube), boss of the Reapers, an all-black gang from L.A. When Henry James sets up Ford for the murder of Trey's little brother, our tribe of good guys (and gal) go on the lam from the Reapers, the Hellions, and two highly unconventional FBI agents in a Hummer.
From the opening shot, first-time director Joseph Kahn - who cut his teeth making music videos, natch - lets the movie's inner comic book take over. Where it works - the leathery costumes, the off-road pursuits, the slick staging, the motorcycle fu - it really works, often brilliantly. Where it fails - the beyond-reason gunfights at 200 mph, the failure of people to die from bullets, explosions, and violent crashes - it feels like a very special episode of The A-Team, and not just because Ice Cube seems to be channeling Mr. T for the better part of the flick.
Cube, now shockingly 15 years removed from NWA, may not have been the best casting choice for the role of Trey. After playing good guys for the past decade of his film career, including complicated and sensitive roles in Three Kings and Barbershop, his performance lacks the menace of his younger days in Raiders gear.
But Cube seems like Olivier-as-Hamlet compared to the casting of Jaime Pressly as China, Henry's gothy, violence-fetishist girlfriend. Pressly, her supermodel looks adorned with biker tats and face piercings, barely speaks but spends so much time licking her glossed lips that her tongue should demand its own agent.
What's worse are the repeatedly guffaw-inducing product placements, including a battle of "PEPSI" vs. "MOUNTAIN DEW" that distracts from Shane's inevitable bad-girl-fight with China. Oh yeah, also the main character is named "Ford," and all the non-motorcycle vehicles are manufactured by... one guess.
Perhaps the only real accomplishment of Torque is the establishment of Henderson as a credible action lead. He reveals Paul Walker, star of the Furious vehicles, for the 90210 reject he really is.
But sadly, there's a movie going on around Henderson, and it's just another PG-13 violence-and-cleavage flick, formulated to bring in young, multiethnic male audiences. If you miss this one, don't feel too bad. There'll be another in about five weeks.
And hey, it's on DVD now, with two commentary tracks ("actor" and "technical") and two storyboard/final cut comparisons. The usual music videos and trailers can also be found on the disc.
All revved up and nowhere to go.
Run time: 84 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th January 2004
Box Office USA: $21.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $21.2M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros.
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Fresh: 26 Rotten: 89
IMDB: 3.9 / 10
Director: Joseph Kahn
Producer: Neal H. Moritz, Brad Luff
Screenwriter: Matt Johnson
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