“Hell Ride” doesn’t hold anything back, yet the concept is pretty simple: this is a world morality as governed by motorcycle gangs, and you’re either in for the ride or you’re going to be left on the side of the road scratching your head. And that’s okay, I don’t expect everyone who reads this to go see the film and get as much fun out of it as I did, but if you legitimately commit to the concept, let your mind go and accept the world that is onscreen then you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
The canvas of “Hell Ride” is hung upon the basic story that the leaders of a seemingly dormant motorcycle gang called the 666ers, Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and the Deuce (David Carradine), have decided it’s time to revive their rivalry with the current Kings of the Asphalt, the Victors. Current leader of the Victors, Pistolero (Larry Bishop), alongside right-hand man the Gent (Michael Madsen) and newcomer / fast-climber Comanche (Eric Balfour), find themselves the targets of a resurrected street war and the rest is… well, the rest is a balls-to-the-wall blast of insanity, adrenalin and the culture of cool.
Sure, the plot goes a bit deeper than that, as there’s a mystery as to the past of Comanche, whose side he (or anybody, as the story plays out) is really on and how this ties into the re-emergence of the homicidal Billy Wings and his seemingly more level-headed (though equally as ruthless, just in a business suit) partner the Deuce, but this isn’t about unraveling a mystery as much as it is about engaging yourself in this world of guns, bikes, sex, brotherhood and revenge. Director, writer and star Larry Bishop delivers on a genre that was once his lifeblood pedigree, and as you watch you can’t help but feel that you’re in the hands of exactly the guy you should be for this particular cinematic endeavor. His commitment to the epic nature of the world is so sincere and powerful that it becomes contagious. By the end of “Hell Ride,” I was convinced I’d only been let in on but a volume of a larger tale, let’s call it Comanche’s Story, and I wanted to follow the characters further, find out even more about how the Gent became a tuxedo-wearing motorcycle bad-a*s, and what the Victors were really up to in this desert wasteland of highways, bars and whorehouses.
The key word for a film like this is “commitment,” by the audience, by the creators to the world that they’ve crafted, and also by the actors tasked with bringing the world to life. Michael Madsen’s Gent is another in a long line of brilliantly memorable characters for the gifted actor, and Balfour’s Comanche is just the right amount of angst, ambition and simmer for someone who is climbing a very shaky moral ladder. And I may not have mentioned him in the plot bits earlier, but Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as a former Victor known as Eddie Zero who has a habit of being considered dead when he isn’t, and it sure is a hoot to see him playing a slightly off-kilter nut on a motorcycle again. It all comes back to Larry Bishop and his King of Cool portrayal of Pistolero, however, and he delivers with everything from bad-a*s witticisms and seemingly insane pun-play to a level of Zen-like calm amidst betrayals and a kingdom that appears to be crumbling (key word there: appears).
In the end, I hope “Hell Ride” is but the beginning of a larger cinematic story, because I’m hooked. I want to know where the characters (that survived) go when the film is over, and I want to know how everyone got to the state they were in when “Hell Ride” opened. The motorcycle film genre is one that has all but been forgotten, but if any film could start the resurrection of this cinema genre’s corpse, it’s Larry Bishop’s “Hell Ride.”