Torque (M, 84mins)Directed by Joseph Kahn * *
Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) lives his life a quarter-mile at a time.
After skipping town months ago, he has returned to reunite with his girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) and take care of some unfinished business. Ford has some bikes of a local gang leader Henry (a mullet-toting Matt Schulze), which have something more than just gas in their tanks.
Henry wants them back and, in order to put the squeeze on Cary, decides to frame him for the murder of rival gang leader Trey’s (Ice Cube) little brother.
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Google defines “torque” as the measure of the force applied to produce rotational motion, which seems eminently topical given the movie’s content. However, I prefer to think the title is shorthand for 15th century Spanish Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada, who had a fearsome reputation for cruelty.
At times watching Torque, which was left on the shelf for a year before its eventual 2004 release into cinemas, is a form of torture.
The western-on-bikes plot is a mixture of the “sparse and the spurious”, with dialogue used only to remind those with short attention spans what the visuals are telling us. Instead of one liners, we have silent posturing and face- offs (we wouldn’t want dialogue to get in the way of the soundtrack, now would we?) such is the paucity of writer Matt Johnson’s script.
Then rookie director Kahn follows his fellow music video alumni McG (Charlie’s Angels) down the path of the free-form action film – free of anything resembling a coherent storyline. There’s no doubting his visual flair, but it seems only to be used to show off, show half-naked women, or advertise shoes and soft drinks.
The good news is Kiwi Martin Henderson manages to escape this trainwreck (literally at one point) of a movie with his reputation intact.
Bearing a closer resemblance to Ethan Hawke or Breckin Meyer than the oft-referenced Tom Cruise, Henderson manages to exude coolness and action-man potential, despite being saddled with a lousy character.
He is brighter than his “tricycle friends”, because he knows where Thailand is, and we are told he is cute because he can “pay with his good looks, or his smile”. Those who don’t fare so well are fellow “crotch rocketer” Jay Hernandez (Crazy/Beautiful), who doesn’t even get the girl, and a permanently sneering Ice Cube, who simply doesn’t look comfortable on a bike.
Those who enjoy indulging in fine cinematic fromage and petrolheads will lap this up, but those unaffected by fumes will yearn for the simpler times of bike movies like BMX Bandits.
The last word should go to Ice Cube’s Trey, who inadvertently provides the best summation of Torque: “It don’t feel right, sound right, look right.”
Torque screens on TVNZ’s Duke channel at 8.30pm on Tuesday, July 13. It will then be available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.