Torque (2004)

Torque_poster

Although “The Fast And The Furious” is a world conquering franchise these days, with its most recent instalment one of the highest grossing movies of all time, there was a time when it was just another (albeit very good) high-budget B-movie about the frankly rather silly subculture of street racing. Back in 2004, Warner Brothers saw the bandwagon and jumped on, giving a decent budget to music video director Joseph Kahn, along with a script from first timer Matt Johnson.

And that’s where things get a little strange. Kahn realised how ludicrous it all was and wanted to make what he called “a dumb movie for smart people”, parodying all the silliest ideas and bits of the first two “Fast and Furious” movies. The studio, on the other hand, wanted none of that, so in that conflict Kahn just snuck in as many jokes, references, and wildly OTT moments played dead straight as he could – in the grand tradition of movies like this, it lead to a bit of a disaster at the box office and Kahn retreating back into the world of music videos (although he’s just done the new Taylor Swift one, and he did that “Power / Rangers” short film too, so he can’t be short of a few quid).

KISS-KISS-KISS-KISS-KISS-KISS

11 years on, how does it all hold up? Co-star Adam Scott still has a lot of time for it, once doing a live commentary along with comedian Doug Benson at a showing; and with the ISCFC’s love for failed OTT comedies (think “Hudson Hawk” and “Double Dragon”) it’s right up our street. So, of course, I loved it, and its awful critical reception (currently 3.9 on IMDB, 24% on Rotten Tomatoes) indicates a heck of a lot of movie reviewers and fans just didn’t get the joke.

There’s not a lot of time in 80 minutes for all the bonkers things they want to do, as well as a plot, so we neither get nor need a lot. Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) is back in town, 6 months after fleeing both a redneck biker gang and the FBI; he abandoned his girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) to protect her, but wants her back and wants to put everything right. He stole bikes belonging to the rednecks,  which are full of crystal meth – very different-looking to the meth we’re used to on “Breaking Bad” – and they want them back, the FBI wants them (and Cary), and thanks to a murder the rednecks are pinning on Cary, all-black bike gang the Reapers, led by Trey (Ice Cube) want him too.

TORQUE, Monet Mazur, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers

TORQUE, Monet Mazur, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers

All this is just the bare minimum framework needed to do two things. One – throw in as many digs at “The Fast And The Furious” as possible. Cary absolutely smokes a couple of guys in supercars at the beginning, driving so fast that he causes a road sign to spin round and read out “Cars Suck”; and there’s a line I’m surprised they got away with, where Cary says jokingly “I live my life a quarter mile at a time”, a direct lift from Vin Diesel, and Shane replies “that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard”. Two – stunts, stunts, stunts.

Just listing the wonderful insanity of the stunts will help to give you a flavour of what goes on. Cary and Trey are feuding, so chase each other through the desert and along a traintrack. When the train comes, they…both jump on top of the train and drive their bikes along it; then Cary actually drops his bike into a carriage and drives past a bunch of surprised commuters. It’s tons of fun, but it pales in comparison to the bike vs. bike fight. Shane and main evil biker lady China (Jaime Pressley, having a blast) fight while on bikes, almost jousting with them. It’s brilliantly done, hilariously over the top and even manages to squeeze in a funny, totally blatant bit of product placement.

Compared to this, the superbike race through crowded streets at the end (where both riders appear to break the sound barrier, so badly does the background blur) is almost mild; and the homage to the speeder-bike fight from “Return of the Jedi” is charming too. But, much like most of the movie, it’s tons of fun. The cast are having a blast – the ones in on the joke anyway; Adam Scott tells a story about seeing minor characters pumping iron minutes before going on set so their muscles would stand out! These people did not realise they were making a comedy, but luckily Scott did, and he steals every scene he’s in. Ice Cube scowls almost permanently; and brink-of-superstardom comedian Dane Cook pops up for a funny little cameo. None of it makes sense, really, and that’s just fine.

It’s a great film. Dumb stunts, fun comedy, manages the tightrope of being a straight movie with parody laced through it admirably. Ignore the fool reviewers who completely missed what makes it great, and give it a go.

Rating: thumbs up

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