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Dustin Putman

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Torque (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Joseph Kahn
Cast: Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, Monet Mazur, Matt Schulze, Jay Hernandez, Will Yun Lee, Jaime Pressly, Adam Scott, Justina Machado, Max Beesley, Dane Cook, Christina Milian, Jim Cody Williams
2004 – 81 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexuality, language, and drug references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 17, 2004.

A trashy action flick that knows it's trash and a movie that goes so far over the deep end into sheer preposterousness that it's almost endearing, "Torque" is about as close to being an 80-minute beer commercial as you're likely to ever see. Every image is bright, shiny, and intentionally overexposed, giving off a luscious neon aura. Every body on display is either buxom or rippled, totally unblemished as they stand next to hot cars or spread their legs atop a two-wheeling hog of paradise. Meanwhile, the camera never stops zooming, spinning, or gliding, taking on the appearance of a rollercoaster. For sure, "Torque" resembles a less graphic, more commercially acceptable version of 1997's "Crash," the David Cronenberg cult curiosity about car crash fetishers. Every look, every word, and every motorcycle chase is a mere stand-in for the act of sex, and debuting feature director Joseph Kahn hints at this none-too-subtly in a keenly mischievous way.

The premise is beside the point, but necessary to jump from one exuberantly far-fetched action set-piece to the next. The minute misunderstood nice guy Ford (Martin Henderson) returns to his California stomping ground after a six-month stay in Thailand, he is accosted by Henry (Matt Schulze), the head of a tough Hellion gang, who wants Ford to tell him where he has hidden a family of motorcycles with crystal meth hidden inside them. When Ford resists, Henry murders the brother of Trey (Ice Cube), head of the Reapers, and frames him for the crime. Now, with the Hellions, the Reapers, and two FBI agents (Adam Scott, Justina Machado) hot on his tail, Ford must make his way back to Los Angeles where the bikes are hidden and clear his name. Along for the ride are two of Ford's buddies, Dalton (Jay Hernandez) and Val (Will Yun Lee), and his estranged girlfriend, Shane (Monet Mazur).

A hybrid of 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" and 2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Biker Boyz," "Torque" one-ups them all by not taking itself too seriously and giving potential viewers exactly what they have come for: a nonstop adrenaline rush. Whereas the former pictures attempted—not very well, it must be said—to be legitimate and believable motion pictures, director Joseph Kahn holds no such haughty, borderline-insulting aspirations. He knows that the story and action is absurd, and that the characters are types rather than originals, and the movie is all the better for it.

"Torque" may go down as one of the biggest laugh riots of the year, but it seems intentional, and will bring an unabashed smile to your face. How else to explain a motorcycle pursuit on top of a speeding train that culminates inside the carriers, with passengers scrambling to get out of the way so that they won't be run over into a bloody pulp? Or how about a climactic motorcycle battle between Shane and pierced, growling bad grrrl China (Jaime Pressly) in front of two larger-than-life ads for Pepsi and Mountain Dew? Or a finale in which Ford and Henry chase each other through a Los Angeles street, the speeds of their motorcycles so deliriously accelerated that they seemingly almost achieve the speed of light? These scenes are stupid and far-fetched, beyond the realm of suspending disbelief and courtesy of some over-the-top CG effects, but they are also so pulse-poundingly, theater-rattlingly exciting and loud that they achieve a peculiar kind of incendiary bravura.

The actors take a back-seat to their two-wheeler beauties, but even the most mediocre performance fits comfortably within what is, in essence, a stylized B-movie. Matt Schulze (2002's "The Transporter"), Ice Cube (2002's "Barbershop"), and Jaime Pressly (2001's "Not Another Teen Movie") crinkle their faces and scowl like the villains they're playing. Pressly also seductively licks her lips so much that it's obvious she wants to jump the bones of every person she comes across, even those that she also wants to stab to death. The most capable turn comes from lead Martin Henderson (2002's "The Ring"), as Ford, a clear talent of concentration, charm, and unapologetic masculinity. Even without having to utter more than a sentence of dialogue at a time, Henderson proves to have what it takes to be a big star.

"Torque" makes no apologies for what it is, and what it sets out to do. It is an inconsequential thrill ride that is over before you know it, and entertaining all the way. Helping in the attention-grabbing department is a technical look and visual palette nothing short of breathtaking. The cinematography by Peter Levy (1998's "Lost in Space") is gorgeous, every frame as pretty and colorful as an idealistic picture, and every camera movement and framing setup alive with creativity. The story is disposable and you don't really care about the characters' fates for a second, but, boy, "Torque" sure looks good as it goes down a path to nowhere. It's cotton-candy junk food that, for once, actually knows what it's doing.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman