It may be difficult to believe, but Neal H. Moritz, producer of the two “Fast and the Furious” flicks, has managed to make a movie even louder and more brainless than they are. Directed by newcomer Joseph Kahn–which means that it could be termed a Kahn job, as certainly proves to be the case as far as the audience is concerned–“Torque” wants to be exciting and edgy but merely proves silly and dull, an insanely pumped-up version of “Biker Boyz.” Watching it is about as pleasant as being trapped for two hours inside an internal combustion engine that some fool is continually revving up; you come out feeling as though you’d just been run over by a semi.
The hero of the movie–if you can think of a scruffy thief in such terms–is Ford (Martin Henderson), a slacker-type dude who’s stolen some motorcycles from brutal drug-dealer Henry James (Matt Schulze) and then skipped town. But it turns out he’s kind of an anti-hero, because after six months he’s returned to L.A. in hopes of winning back his girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur), whom he abandoned when he left, and arranging it so that James gets busted. But he’s targeted once again by James, who wants those cycles back (their tanks, it just happens, are filled with something other than gas), and before long Ford and his two buddies Dalton and Val (Jay Hernandez and Will Yun Lee) are being pursued not only by the drug lord and his gang, but also by Trey (Ice Cube), a gangsta type convinced by James that Ford killed his baby brother, and an all-too-slick FBI agent named McPherson (Adam Scott) and his distaff partner, accompanied by a posse of regular cops.
This scenario owes something to the “wrong man” plots that were Hitchcock’s speciality, but none of the master’s skill or deftness is apparent here. “Torque” is little more than an extended chase unburdened by any logic or suspense. (To be sure there’s a “twist” at the close, but it couldn’t be more predictable.) The characters are uniformly unpleasant, the guys all macho morons and the women all hard-nosed broads in leather. (Of course, the two most prominent gals, Mazur and Jaime Pressly as James’s sultry squeeze China, engage in the obligatory cat-fight at the close, this time on cycles.) But it’s not the content–terrible as it is–that’s the major problem, it’s the style of execution. The whole mess is staged and filmed by Kahn as though it were a 90-minute music video, with endlessly oppressive closeups, splashy cuts, hideously glitzy but unflattering cinematography and overblown fights and action set-pieces, all accompanied by a pulverizing soundtrack of noise and hip-hop. Needless to say, in such a context acting is hardly called for–the performers merely pose, posture, swagger, smirk and deliver their ludicrous dialogue with laughable intensity. The lackluster, strenuously cool Henderson is merely boring, but Schulze and Ice Cube vie with one another to see which of them can scowl most persistently; it’s a contest in which the viewers emerge the losers. Mazur and Pressly strut their stuff as though they were auditioning for a direct-to-video “Charlie’s Angels” sequel, and Hernandez (who showed real promise in “Crazy/Beautiful,” unfulfilled here) and Lee manage the none-too-bright chums well enough–perhaps it’s merely type casting. But Scott is enormously irritating as the agent who’s both more and less than he seems.
Some–those who frequent Monster Truck rallys, perhaps–may find the racing effects eye-catching, but in actuality they’re pretty poor, looking not only utterly phony but frequently blurry as well (especially in the final chase, in which supposedly superpowered cycles are employed, causing all manner of destruction as they break the sound barrier). The year is young, but it’s hard to imagine that the next eleven and a half months will bring us a movie more excruciatingly awful than “Torque.” It would need to move up several rungs on the evolutionary ladder to be classified as garbage.