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(2004) (Martin Henderson, Ice Cube) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A biker returns to his hometown to clear his name of drug charges but must then also deal with being framed for murder.
Cary Ford (MARTIN HENDERSON) is a tough biker who's returned to his American hometown after an extended stay in Thailand. He's not only done so to reconnect with his fellow biker girlfriend, Shane (MONET MAZUR), but also to clear his name of the drug charges from which he fled. It seems that while working on some bikes owned by Hellion biker gang leader Henry James (MATT SCHULZE), Ford discovered vials of crystal meth.

That drew the attention of FBI agents McPherson (ADAM SCOTT) and Henderson (JUSTINA MACHADO), but Ford escaped before they could nab him. Now that he's back and reunited with Shane and his close friends, Dalton (JAY HERNANDEZ) and Val (WILL YUN LEE), he wants to prove his innocence.

Yet, he must deal not only with James and the rest of his gang including Goth girlfriend China (JAIME PRESSLY), but also with brothers Trey (ICE CUBE) and Junior Wallace (FREDRO STARR) of the Reapers biker gang. Things become more complicated for him when James has Junior murdered and frames the crime on Ford. From that point on, Ford and his friends try to prove his innocence, all while avoiding the various people who are after him.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
It's both amusing and insightful regarding how young kids view their physical world. After they master the literal and figurative steps in learning how to crawl, walk and run - usually without any second thoughts or fears - their budding intelligence starts to take over. As a kid, I remember thinking that since the sun was hot, the higher one went up a tall mountain, the warmer it must be. At the same time, I was terrified of trying to graduate from riding a tricycle to a bicycle.

After all, while the former was able to "stand on its own," an unmanned bicycle - sans kickstand - couldn't and would thus fall over. How on Earth did my parents expect me to ride such an unstable and obviously dangerous contraption?

Long ago, of course, many adults thought the exact same thing and they just couldn't get their mind around anyone riding a bicycle, let alone its more modern, fuel-driven cousin, the motorcycle. Due to all of the intervening years since their inception, you won't have a problem believing people can stay upright on such vehicles in "Torque." Yet, the laws of physics are otherwise totally thrown out the window in this overwrought, hyperkinetic biker flick.

Marking the directorial debut of Joseph Kahn, the film is all flash and no substance, essentially playing out like a feature length music video. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that's the background where Kahn received his filmmaking training. Unfortunately, and much like a youngster trying to learn how to bike, the film races out of control and crashes long before reaching its destination and/or any possible laudatory remarks.

As penned by Matt Johnson (also making his feature debut), the story is both too simplistic and yet complicated for its own good. Essentially a modern-day Western, the plot features the gruff but resourceful protagonist returning to Dodge where he must deal with various rustlers, lowlifes and the law all while trying to clear his name and win back his girl.

The souped-up bikes, of course, have replaced the horses and crystal meth is standing in for the stolen gold, but it's otherwise the same, at least thematically. The problem is that instead of having some imaginative fun with that, the filmmakers seemingly just want to make a biker flick featuring lots of racing bikes, plenty of stunts, shapely women and enough bravado to fill more than a ten-gallon hat.

Accordingly, the plot keeps getting in the way of all of the revved up, testosterone-laced action. The sort of people who see this film - such as those who attended our advance screening - don't care squat about plot and this effort probably would have been better with less of it.

Of course, that would only apply if the action were gripping, amazing or stupendously entertaining. Unfortunately, it's not, although less discerning cinema thrill seekers might find something enjoyable from the offerings. Everyone else, however, will quickly tire of the visual frenzy that wears out its welcome in just the opening sequence. Editor Howard E. Smith ("The Glass House," "City of Ghosts") should get a little credit for being able to assemble the thousands of split-second shots and effects into something resembling a coherent whole, but beyond that feat, the rest of it's boring.

As I watched one such scene after another, all I could think of was how much better "Mad Max" and "The Road Warrior" were in utilizing the same sort of onscreen vehicular action and mayhem. In those films, such moments were completely engaging and exciting. Here, the director is so busy trying to impress that everything falls prey to visual overload. The result is one boring action sequence after another.

Then there are the aforementioned physics problems. While most films break those science laws you learned back in school, sometimes they're easy to accept and sometimes they're not. This is one of those efforts suffering from the latter. My favorite involved the final sequence where riders on bikes supposedly doing 200 or so m.p.h. punch and hit each other while swerving through city traffic.

None of that or the other scenes are remotely as exciting as the similar action scenes in the big summer films of 2003, and that last sequence is so faked that it looks - intentionally or not - like nothing more than a glorified video game. Perhaps that's what the targeted audience expects and/or desires, but that, the contrived melodrama and on the nose dialogue only end up adding insult to injury.

That said, the performances are pretty much what you'd expect for such a film. Martin Henderson ("The Ring," "Windtalkers") simply doesn't work as the returning Eastwood-type character, which also holds true for Jamie Pressly ("Not Another Teen Movie," "Joe Dirt") as a Goth biker chick. Ice Cube (the "Friday" and "Barbershop" movies) does his usual intense scowl bit, Monet Mazur ("Just Married," "40 Days and 40 Nights") is present to address the adolescent leer factor and Adam Scott ("High Crimes," "Star Trek: First Contact") plays the most unbelievable FBI agent you might ever see on screen.

There are others, of course, in various roles, but they all pretty much end up blurring together, just like the overall effort. Despite its posturing as a loud and visually hyperkinetic biker flick, the film is surprisingly inert both dramatically and from any sort of engaging viewpoint. While the title might be appropriate for the assault on one's ears and eyes, the only torsion this "Torque" will be generating is the continual movement of one's rear in one's seat. The film rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed January 12, 2004 / Posted January 16, 2004

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