Torque (Matthew’s Take)

The funniest thing about Torque is that one of the two major forces in its creation wasn’t sure of what was being made. The director is Joseph Kahn, who wants to have made a satire of films like The Fast and the Furious. Neal H. Moritz is one of the producers of the film, and the one the advertising refers to as “The Producer of The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T. and xXx.” He seems to believe that this is another dumb action movie, and has tried to get it advertised as such.

What is it really? Probably something of a mix, which explains the confusion by the two men. They were each trying to get something different made, so elements of each have wound up in the final cut. There are parts where it completely mocks its target, while there are others that follow in those films’ footsteps, gladly taking the “dumb action movie” route. It’s inconsistent, and while that doesn’t make it unwatchable, it would have been nicer for there not to be this internal conflict. It would have made the action more enjoyable or the satire more biting.

The basic idea here is that it’s Fast and the Furious, ramped up to 11, and with motorcycles instead of cars. The lead is Cary (Martin Henderson), and he is essentially against the entire world in the film. He’s always being chased by someone, whether it be rival gang leaders (Ice Cube and Matt Schulze), his girlfriend (Money Mazur), or the FBI (Adam Scott and Justina Machado). He was absent for a long time, after he found himself in possession of a ton of drugs, but he’s returned to clear his name. This is further complicated when a man ends up dead and Carey is blamed, despite having both an alibi and proof that it was someone else.

Torque is absolutely insane. It’s highly stylized, action-packed, and has so many amazing ideas that I probably would have been okay if it was just a straight-up action movie. Joseph Kahn shows some spark here that makes me think he could easily do an action movie without a brain in its head and make it incredibly entertaining. Torque, as it is, winds up being quite fun.

There are a lot of chase scenes, most of them done at very high speeds, and because they’re on motorcycles instead of being inside a car, the whole thing feels just a little more dangerous, mostly because you can’t just have the camera mounted on the dashboard and all you’re looking at is a person’s face. In order to film this way, the camera has to show at least something outside of the vehicle, and it has to follow the motorcycle around. It’s more difficult filmmaking, plain and simple, and it also makes the action scenes more exciting.

I can’t begin to describe some of the things that you see in this film. Remember how Equilibrium had “gun kata”? Torque has “bike fu” — kung fu on motorcycles. And the two participants are Monet Mazur and Jamie Pressly, so I’m not sure who would complain about watching that scene. Is it ridiculous and over-the-top? Absolutely, but so is a lot of the film. This is only one of many moments that will have you audibly declare “no way!” Suffice to say that I really enjoyed the action in Torque.

However, there’s more to the film than that. Or, at least, the intention is that there’s more. I’m not sure how much of that came through in the finished product. You can see some of the attempts — the line “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” from The Fast and the Furious is made fun of directly, a sign reads “cars suck,” and the action is sometimes so silly that you can’t possibly take it seriously — but so much of Torque plays out just like a dumb action film that those small bits of insight come across more as flukes than as genuine criticism.

And that’s too bad, because if you’re looking for them, you can see what Kahn was doing with his film. Whether it was studio/producer interference or that there is only so much one can do with this idea before the film starts to stop being fun is something likely never to be revealed, but I can certainly see the attempt. Credit is due for the idea; it’s the execution that’s somewhat lacking, even if the film remains really enjoyable for its brief (84 minute) running time.

The acting is actually better than you’d expect from a cheesy B-movie such as this. Martin Henderson doesn’t have to do anything in the lead role, but he’s charismatic and I liked watching him. Ice Cube isn’t a good actor, but he’s suitable as the leader of a rival gang. Adam Scott is taking the film the least seriously, despite playing the part that requires the most composure: an FBI Agent. The women just have to look good, and it would have been better to see more done with their characters. “Their roles are satirical,” the film would claim. Fine.

Torque walks an uneasy line between straight-up dumb action movie and a satire of that very genre, and while it doesn’t really pick a side, it does the former very well and while the execution of the latter wasn’t completely successful, I’m inclined to be forgiving. When most of the film is this fun, any additional thought is bonus. That Torque thinks about anything other than stunts is a bonus in and of itself. I heartily recommend this film.

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