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Biker Boyz (Reggie Rock Bythewood, 2003)


    A surprisingly ambivalent entry in genre that’s usually brain-dead, Reggie Rock Bythewood’s Biker Boyz mines intelligence by recognizing the contradictions inherent in its milieu. Take for example the scene in which Kid's (Derek Luke) mother disproves when her younger son plays a violent videogame and then uses that same game as an opportunity to bond with her older son. This inherently conflicted approach to the violent or sexist modes of expression that permeate throughout this particular world is present in almost every one of the movie’s scenes. For example, in one subplot demonstrating an askew brand of affection mixed with domination a man tells his paramour that he wants to brand her with a tattoo. In another scene, characters suppress their views on sexual exploitation to participate in a bikini bike wash because it’s “for charity”. Later we find that a mother has put up with her husband’s infidelity for years, in an attempt to hold her family together. Quite explicitly, the tensions that exist in Biker Boyz place the needs of the community at odds with one’s individual values and the needs of one’s desire to be civilized with the need to express more primal masculine impulses. Obviously, considering the movie’s subject matter, most of the observations on how culture functions as an extension of and an opponent of the individual's desires can be found by examining how the motorcycle racing subculture exerts itself on those who subscribe to it. Both as a support structure (demonstrated through displays of male respect and more practical, real world gestures, such as when Smoke offers financial assistance to Kid’s family at his father’s funeral) and a code of honor, this supposedly shifty subculture provides obvious, yet self-serving, benefits to its subscribers.


    The characters in Biker Boyz are aware that their behavior is somewhat unhealthy or dangerous, but at the same time recognize the purpose it serves. Upon a cursory examination, the movie doesn’t really seem to be questioning why it is that such posturing with big engines and bigger egos is necessary in the first place. The style creates an atmosphere so striking that the audience can see the attractive aspects of this lifestyle. It eventually becomes apparent why a group of young men struggling to define themselves might come to define themselves in this way. In the racing movie genre, displays of machismo become aesthetic objects, and ideally expressive ones, which reveal the interior lives of the characters (this is most exemplified here by the glorious, yet sacrificial pose that the riders make as they cross the finish line). As such, the genre becomes a perfect arena to address real-world issues of male identity (by locating the climactic race on a dude ranch, the film acknowledges that the Western genre served this purpose in the past). It is precisely because the world the movie shows makes it permissible for men to demonstrate their normally unspoken masculinity that it attracts them in the first place. Kid’s tattoo, which reads “Burn Rubber, Not Your Soul” speaks this message plainly. The biker gangs, whatever risks joining them might entail, provide an outlet for an inherent impulse that the riders need to, but paradoxically can’t, convey.



Jeremy Heilman