Grade: D-

The marketing folk at DreamWorks want you to believe that “Biker Boyz” is a version of “The Fast and the Furious” on two wheels, but the comparison is totally misleading. That Vin Diesel vehicle was an empty exercise in testosterone, but it at least possessed a certain manic energy and visual verve that (along with the lovingly photographed souped-up cars) made the young male audience salivate. By contrast Reggie Rock Bythewood’s picture, although it’s based on a newspaper story, is basically a slow, lazy soap opera that just happens to be set in the world of California bike gangs. To be sure, it features a few races, but they’re mostly brief, badly photographed and surprisingly unexciting. “Boyz” instead concentrates on the tortured maturation of a troubled teen who must come to terms with the truth about his family’s past. Neither Vin nor his fans will know what to make of it–not that many of them will choose to try.

The protagonist of the flick is a teen called Kid (Derek Luke), who watches his father Willie (an unbilled Eriq La Salle) accidentally killed in a street race won by Smoke (Laurence Fishburne), president of the Black Knights gang and the recognized “King of Cali,” whose bike Willie has tenderly maintained for years. Skipping ahead a bit, Kid returns to the gang anxious to challenge Smoke; ultimately he forms his own titular band of misfits as a means of doing so. Others intervene, most notably Kid’s mother who, as it turns out, has a deep, dark secret relating to her pre-marital connection with Smoke. One doesn’t want to spill the beans, but it’s safe to say that almost everyone who sees the movie and knows Derek Luke’s name will be thinking of a line from “The Empire Strikes Back” (and chuckling) at a climactic moment.

Bythewood tells this lachrymose story, devised by Craig Fernandez from an article on LA gangs by Michael Gougis, with a remarkable degree of lassitude. Most of the intimate scenes plod mercilessly, shapeless and distended. One might imagine that the racing action would compensate, but it doesn’t: those scenes seem perfunctory at best, and the curious effect showing the “tunnel vision” Smoke adopts in psyching himself at the starting-line is a bad idea, endlessly repeated. The acting is poor, too. Fishburne is a capable guy, but here he does one of those Great Stone Face imitations intended to exude strength but instead suggesting boredom. Luke, who had an impressive debut in “Antwone Fisher,” does a slovenly, aimless turn–merely the sophomore jinx, one hopes. A wide variety of other good performers–Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Larenz Tate–are wasted in stock roles. Brendan Fehr (late of “Roswell”) at least shows some personality, even if of an irritating kind, as Kid’s best buddy; the same certainly can’t be said of Kid Rock, who demonstrates no discernible thespian ability as Dog, the leader of a rival bike gang called the Strays. Even technically the picture disappoints; it’s shot in dark, gloomy tones that merely accentuate the moroseness of the plot, and the music score is predictably loud and nasty.

If you want to see a good picture about cycle gangs, check out the Marlon Brando classic “The Wild One.” It may date back to 1954, but it still has a punch this tedious entry lacks. “Biker Boyz” is one of those misguided projects that start out badly and cross the finish line (where the picture literally ends) in even worse shape.