Daily Archives: 12/04/2011

“Torque” – an appreciation.

In business, the customer is key.  You do what the customer wants, so the theory goes, and you’ll be set.  With that in mind, and being aware of some of the bizarre search terms that people have used to find my blog today (top hit – “Motorcycle Movies”, for no reason that I can think of), it’s about time that I spoke to you about Joseph Kahn’s loopy “Fast & Furious” derivative, the 2004 actioner “Torque”.

Yep, it's called "Torque" alright...

To put the film in some kind of context, we’re not talking art here – the Rotten Tomatoes critic’s score for this film is a none-too-hefty 22% at the time of writing (balanced, perhaps, by a 54% audience approval rating).

Best actor in the whole damn film...

The lack of critical approval isn’t a surprise – if you felt that producer Neil H. Moritz’s previous foray into the world of illegal street racing and outlaw sub-cultures, “The Fast & The Furious”, was lacking in credibility and factory-tooled to appeal to an audience untroubled by intellect then “Torque” and its numerous offences against wit, common sense and physics will likely cause you to spontaneously explode.  What is in this film’s favour is that these problems are not necessarily problems at all – Joseph Kahn’s film is wholly and notably aware of its absurdity and positively revels in it.

Nice credit, Neil. How about leaving "Starship Troopers" alone, eh?

So, what is “Torque” about, then?

Well, we follow outlaw biker Ford (Martin Henderson) as he tries to clear his name – he’s skipped town after being mistakenly accused of dealing crystal meth and wants to set things right with mechanic girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur).  His noble ambitions hit a roadblock when sociopathic drug dealer Henry James (Matt Schulze) frames Ford for the murder of motorcycle gang leader Trey (Ice Cube)’s brother.

Martin Henderson, or 'a young Kurt Russell', as most reviews of this film insist on dubbing him.

And that’s about it.  This is a B-movie and doesn’t really need a tremendously involved plot line or nuances to drive it along.  We are very firmly in the realm of bad asses, hot babes, fast bikes, primary colours and pulp crime novel morality with “Torque” and several times during the film, it attains a kind of dim-witted transcendence which goes a long way to offset the feeling that you should probably be watching something enriching and worthwhile.

Because “Torque” isn’t enriching or worthwhile. sorry to say.  It’s the kind of thing where you might well expect to find an explosion every five minutes or so, or you’ll feel as though you were cheated out of your ticket price.

Where's my explosion at? Ah yes, there it is.

There is a welcome sense that this film does know that it’s not a work of art – the bad guy’s named for one of the most austere and contemplative literary novelists of the nineteenth century, Ice Cube’s character gets to deliver a one-liner which directly recalls his former band N.W.A.’s signature track and Adam Scott’s snarky FBI agent is clearly in a whole different movie to many of the cast and accordingly walks away with every scene that he appears in.

No, I got it wrong - he's the best actor in this film...

The absurdity of this film is never far from the surface – it’s one of those pictures where nobody seems to be over twenty-five years old, nobody seems to work (but tools around on top-of-the-line custom motorbikes) and property is destroyed with a cavalier disregard for human life or collective safety.

A screen-grab which adequately sums up the narrative complexity of "Torque"...

One of the criticisms of the film which does hold up in retrospect is its crippling reliance on CGI and virtual stunts – the climax essentially eschews physical action and staging entirely and pitches Martin Henderson and Matt Schulze into an unholy mess of green screen, augmented CG action and migraine-inducing, ‘blink-and-miss-everything’ digital editing.  It’s like a really crappy, badly conceived PS2 cut-scene writ large and treats the audience with such contempt that it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Behold, the cutting-edge of effects work in 2004...

In fact, as the film draws on, we put the hard-working and skilled stuntmen to one side and instead jack up the virtual doubles and impossible bike-play to the point where you may as well be pressing the R2 and X buttons to advance the story.  Perhaps another screen-grab will illustrate my point…

Hey! Chicks fighting! Albeit, on bikes and whilst fully attired. Which is progressive, I guess?

It’s kind of stupid, no?  And not in a ‘we know this dumb, the audience is in on the gag, let’s all be ironic hipsters together’ kind of way.  This is just plain idiotic and so lacking in respect for basic physics that it wrenches you out of the film entirely and makes you start to regret that you watched it in the first place.

In the end, this at least has brevity on its side – at a sprightly 80 minutes or so, this movie gets in, gets out again and doesn’t waste your time too much.   It’s nowhere near as sexist and retrograde in terms of its attitudes as it could easily have been and has a charmingly bad bad girl in the form of Jaime Pressly, who is so very often better than the material she gets to work with (I’m glad that she got to really show her comedic chops to such great effect as Joy in “My Name is Earl”).

“Torque” is not a movie for the ages – it’s very much a film which you might check out if it was on TV late one night and there was nothing else on – and isn’t the kind of thing that you could honestly recommend to anybody but the uncritical.  Bikers might be it’s harshest critics of all, as for all of the heroic posing and hero shots that the biker characters in the film get, the film’s treatment of motorcycles is so removed from reality that I imagine most Ducati riders would regard the speeder chase in “Return of the Jedi” as being closer to reality than anything in this flick.

This B-movie gets a ‘C’.

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