Bikers aren't on a joy 'Ride'

Review C-

August 08, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun movie critic

I managed to get through the biker extravaganza Hell Ride, a narcissistic piece of soft-core porn and macho camp, by mashing it together in my mind with the equally woeful, family-friendly biker comedy W ild Hogs. After all, both are full of hellions gone to seed.

Directed and written by (and starring) Larry Bishop, Hell Ride begs for laughs with its variations on "the 3Bs: Beer, Bike and Booty" and grungy dives named after Dante's Inferno or Valhalla. I found it funny only when I realized that Bishop's dour Pistolero, Michael Madsen's supposedly slick "The Gent" and Vinnie Jones' unrepentantly scummy Billy Wings are the fellows John Travolta, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence would have been in their baddest dreams.

Instead of affable but sagging middle-age men rediscovering their vitality, finding love or giving new life to their marriages, as in Hogs, Hell Ride gives us rabid but sagging middle-age men reaffirming their adolescent bravado, partying with centerfold-worthy babes and wreaking terrible carnage with nifty weapons, such as air-powered arrows.

And as Hell Ride pits the "Victors" against the "Six-Six-Sixers" over a decades-old killing and a hidden treasure, Bishop piles on the would-be clever word-play, lubricious nudity and over-the-top carnage the way the sad sitcom minds behind Wild Hogs did the gay jokes and pratfalls.

Bishop possesses Route 66-level street cred as a veteran of grindhouse biker classics such as Richard Rush's The Savage Seven, and he fills the cast with professional hard guys such as Madsen and Jones, but his idea of naughtiness is stuck in 1970s girlie mags, and his ideas of cleverness and cool are sophomoric. When Pistolero asks Deuce (David Carradine) whether he has a good memory, he replies, "I'm no Marcel Proust." Carradine and Dennis Hopper (as Eddie Zero) are used mostly for their talismanic qualities. And the movie has a bleached look that is hell-on-earth and murder on your eyes.

Quentin Tarantino helped produce Hell Ride. Its release leads to the same question as Tarantino's own Grindhouse: What's the point of paying a semi-burlesque tribute to genres whose lowdown charm rests on their unselfconscious energy and feckless disregard for convention and propriety? Even when movies like The Savage Seven were pretentious, they were unpretentiously pretentious. Because no one would fund him to make a Kurosawa film like Rashomon or S even Samurai, a director like Richard Rush would toy with Kurosawa's themes in exploitation movies.

And he and his talented cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, seized any opportunity to capture gritty new images of the American road and experiment with seat-of-the-pants techniques. Rush's goal was to someday make a great movie, which he finally did with The Stunt Man. Sadly, Bishop's is to make a film like The Savage Seven - and at that he doesn't come close.

Hell Ride

(Third Rail Releasing) Starring Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones. Directed by Larry Bishop. Rated R for strong violence, graphic nudity, language. Time 85 minutes.

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