It’s not surprising to learn that the director of Torque, Joseph Kahn, is one of the hottest music video directors around. In that genre, images come down hard and fast or turtle-slow, and postproduction brilliance is essential for success. Except on the folksier numbers, music videos possess the dumb surrealism and obsessed camerawork that lingers on one thing only long enough to grab its visual essence, before it’s on to the next image. This is exactly how Torque works. A sweaty face. A boot in the sand. A girl’s thigh splashed with water. A dog. A train. The internal combustion of a Japanese racing bike. And just like in the average music video, the images don’t add up to much. But that’s OK, because they aren’t supposed to. They’re just supposed to make you stare, slack-jawed and brainless. They don’t expect you to walk away with any deep experience.
Staying true to that mission, Joseph Kahn has made a film that not only provides moments of true slack-jawed and brainless fun, it also provides the “serious” student of film some of the worst dialogue ever committed to film. There’s something for everyone in Torque, provided you leave everything but your eyeballs and too-clever sarcasm in the lobby.
The plot of Torque is pure B-movie western. Good crotch-rocket pilot Cary Ford (the “Kurt Russell-esque” Martin Henderson) comes back to town to settle a score with bad crotch-rocket pilot Henry James (Matt Schulze with mental patient hairdo). It all takes place in the stylized deserts of California, where nobody ever dies or gets closed-head injuries from falling off their machines and where every motion made by the human body creates the whooshing metallic sound that every 13-year-old boy mimics when play-fighting with his buds. You know the sound. Joseph Kahn uses it when a cell phone gets tossed through the air. He uses it when someone takes off their gloves.
Within this Mad Max wanna-be world, Cary must deal with the all-black biker group, the Reapers, led by the permanently grimaced mug of Trey (Ice Cube, chewing every chunk of scenery he can find). Henry James has killed Trey’s brother and framed Cary for it for reasons that matter as much as why they used blue smoke instead of yellow smoke in that one Madonna video. The wafer-thin plot is only there to propel these cliché-spewing characters down the road and up the train and through the windows with their screaming, acrobatic rice-burners. This film will lose half its punch if it’s not viewed and listened to either at a commercial theater or a real tricked-out home theater. The sound track is thunderous, stupid fun.
This new member in the sure-to-grow Fast and the Furious subgenre of action films has its tongue firmly in its cheek, its colors properly popped, and its noises correctly tweaked for maximum head-rush. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s not a bad ride.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].