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Torque (Joseph Kahn, 2004)

   

    After Biker Boyz, last yearís motorcycle-mounted Red River redux, perhaps I went into Torque, director Joseph Kahnís debut film, with artificially raised expectations. After all, itís not every movie that manages to take up-to-the-minute, in-your-face film grammar and wed it to enough genuine sentiment to convince reviewers like myself that they might have finally found a worthy successor to the sadly defunct Western. Torque, unfortunately, for all of its bravado, doesnít have any aspirations of greatness or even resonance. A facet or two of its horrible plot, which revolves around a pair of motorcycles with illegal drugs in their gas tanks, faintly recalls the counterculture classic Easy Rider, but to call those elements deliberate references instead of blatant copies of that film would be as misleading as if you tried to call Torqueís star Martin Henderson anything other than a second rate reproduction of vintage Tom Cruise. Vapid macho posturing and attitude (usually followed up by a withering gag) fill up whatever run time Torqueís set pieces donít. Amongst the trio of biker gangs jockeying for control and respect in the area surrounding Los Angeles there seems not to be a single person I havenít seen in a dozen better movies. Thereís nothing inherently wrong with the familiarity of a genre, but when the bulk of the dialogue in Torque resorts to trite inanities like, ďIt wouldnít be any fun if it were easy,Ē itís tough to get past the genreís trappings and at the personality behind them. Never does the racing feel like an extension of the personalities involved. Everyone simply wants to race harder, faster, and better than the others. I could note that an expeditious ending keeps Torque from ever really wearing out its welcome, but if thatís the best that can be said about it, perhaps itís better left unsaid.

   

    Torque is not without merit on formal grounds. Despite the propensity toward frenzied editing, most of the compositions are sound enough to linger for a second or two after theyíre whisked away. The entire movie pulsates with a kind of nervous energy, though I suppose itís the kind that wonders, like an amped-up junkie, where its next fix of instant-gratification-inducing visual overkill will come from. Like many action films of late, Torque utilizes a completely untethered CGI camera that loops in out and around every conceivable angle of the action. Whether this mode of digitized filmmaking is the wave of the future or a passing fad is still up in the air, but itís tough to argue that most of what we see in Torque can compare with the cool, claustrophobia of David Fincherís Panic Room or the Day-Glo fantasia of McGís Charlieís Angels: Full Throttle. Despite an entire movie that takes place on cycles, only in the twin climactic battles (one of which features Mountain Dew squaring off against Pepsi, thanks to product placement) does Kahn hit the heights of Full Throttleís motocross sequence, and it has to be noted that that particular scene was one of the weaker moments in McGís movie.

 

40 

01/21/04 

Jeremy Heilman