April 21, 2003
Starring: Starring: Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, Monet Mazur, Adam Scott, Matt Schulze, Jaime Pressly, Jay Hernandez, Will Yun Lee, Max Beesley, Christina Milian, Faizon Love, John Doe, ,
Torque (2004) is the debut film of music video director Joseph Kahn. It’s no surprise that the entire film is shot like a music video—everyone looks perfect, everything looks beautiful and no shot lasts longer than five seconds. A film like this is ultimately critic proof because it aspires to be nothing more than a big, noisy, dumb action film. On that level, Torque succeeds admirably.
Ford (Henderson) is an ace motorcyclist with a checkered past. He ripped off a local gang’s drugs and is wanted by the FBI for a crime he did not commit. After a soul-searching trip to Thailand, Ford returns to rekindle a romance with his old flame, Shane (Mazur), and settle things once and for all with the drug-dealing gang, the Hellions and their leader, Henry James (Schulze). However, things aren’t going to be that easy as James sets up Ford by killing the younger brother of rival motorcycle gang leader, Trey (Cube), and framing him for it.
The attitude of this movie is cemented early on in a biker rally sequence. Kahn photographs and edits it like some kind of surreal beer commercial mixed with a Kid Rock music video. Greasy tough guys swill beer and arm wrestle, sweaty mechanics work on their bikes and beautiful girls spray each other (as they “clean” the bikes) with water, mugging suggestively for the camera like Playboy playmates-in-training. From there, it never looks back, establishing a breakneck pace with no time for coherent plotting or any kind of character development.
Ah yes, the characters. Henderson as Ford has the chiseled good looks, just the right amount of stubble and The Ramones t-shirt, as if to suggest he has integrity by association. Or, is it one of Kahn’s “sly” references to his music video career (many characters sport a variety of band shirts, from Metallica to Motorhead)? The Ramones shirt is screenwriter, Matt Johnson’s attempt to give depth to his cardboard stereotypes. This leaves the actors with little to work with so Henderson does the brooding good looks thing and Ice Cube grimaces his way through another paycheck.
This is the least of the film’s problems, however. The screenplay is riddled with clunky, cliché dialogue that isn’t even memorable in a cheesy B-movie way. A typically meaningful exchange between two characters, in this case James and Ford, went like this:
James: Heard you were Indochina. Some shit like that. Good food there? Ford: Thailand, actually. Yeah, the food was great. Thanks for asking.
This isn’t just an isolated example. The entire film is filled with this kind of plain, uninspired dialogue. It is merely functional to get us through to the next action sequence.
As for the action sequences, they are fine but the problem with them is that there is no sense that the characters are in any real danger. Some of the stuntwork (especially in the film’s climatic chase) is so impossible that they had to be computer generated to the degree that it becomes akin to watching a video game. While this may be just fine for The Matrix Revolutions (2003), it just doesn’t work for Torque.
The first audio commentary features director Joseph Kahn with a good portion of the cast, including Martin Henderson, Monet Mazur, Jay Hernandez, Will Yun Lee and others. You know a movie is bad when watching the commentary track is more entertaining than the film itself. To their credit, everyone has no pretensions as to what kind of film they made. They laugh at the absurdity of it and playfully make fun of themselves and each other. Kahn sums up the film’s aesthetics best when he says at one point, “I didn’t really want realistic fights. I wanted things that looked pretty.”
Kahn returns for the second audio commentary with participants from behind the camera, including writer Matt Johnson, cinematographer Peter Levy, visual effects supervisor Eric Durst and others. As one would imagine, this track focuses on the technical details: how the sound and visual effects were achieved as well as the complicated stuntwork. Incredulously, Johnson says that his intention was to write a spaghetti western on motorcycles.
“Racing animatic” is a storyboard comparison of the opening chase sequence with the final version. The “Train animatic” is also a comparison of an action sequence but with the computer animation tests thrown in for good measure.
Rounding out the disc’s extras is a music video for the song, “Lean Low” by the Youngbloodz that plays over the end credits and is directed by Kahn. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.
Torque comes from The Fast and the Furious (2001) school of action movies: fast cars, gorgeous women and CGI-assisted action sequences set to a soundtrack of popular music. However, where Furious had the charismatic presence of Vin Diesel (which went a long way), Torque has no such dominating presence, and instead overcompensates with flashy but ultimately empty visuals.