Feeling bloated from the over-produced, fatty film frostings slathered over “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Aeon Flux”? Then take a spin with the boys from “Choppertown: The Sinners.” Not only is their film refreshingly bare bones and low in empty cinematic calories – it’s also an amazingly intimate ride into a subculture that few people truly understand.
“Choppertown” transports us to an industrial, Californian landscape of warehouses, barbed-wire fences, and railroad tracks. Welding sparks spot the drab surroundings with electric blue and gold. This is the no-frills domain of the Sinners, a hardcore motorcycle club where garage-inhabiting bikers wield wrenches and blowtorches to fuse metal on metal.
Their mission? To fabricate the ultimate bikes from various scraps and pieces that fate kicks their way.
We observe several tough-looking men – most sporting black t-shirts and tattoos – salivating over a newly acquired bike frame. To the average layman, this twisted hunk of weathered metal wouldn’t merit cause for celebration. But to Rico, wearing the untamed beard of an Amish man, it’s a major find. “Somebody made this with an idea,” he explains admiringly. “Some cool guy handcrafted it. Then the motorcycle gods sent it to us.”
“Choppertown” chronicles how Rico and his associates – including Kutty, whom the current bike is being built for – fabricate these divine offerings into unique, customized two-wheelers. “They’re basic, old-school bikes with a new flare to it,” describes one Sinner member. But the film also conveys the spirit of brotherhood that bonds these kick-starting clubs.
Convinced that bikers are reckless, property-damaging thugs? Then explain the affectionate perspective of a Sinner bike-builder as he caresses a worn-out leather seat. “All of these parts have character and soul on their own,” he exclaims like an art-shop guide describing Rembrandt masterworks. “Parts come flying in together. Every piece has its own life and history. It’s karma. Put it all together, and that’s a lot of positive energy.”
Certain that motorcycle club members are antisocial miscreants? Then observe the tight-knit, almost communal way in which each member selflessly lends his talents to the betterment of fellow Sinners. One guy’s a barber – he shaves Rico for free. Hot rod shop proprietor Jimmy provides pipes for Kutty’s half-assembled bike, while Cole installs its gas tank. These guys are the ultimate good neighbors to one another.
The more predictable, macho tendencies of these men are not overlooked. They cram case after case of beer into a crowded garage refrigerator, shred guitars in bands like Whitewall and The Highway Murderers, and slam each other in rock club mosh pits. But they also hug each other with genuine emotion, providing a fraternal support group. For many Sinners, this unconditional bond has eluded them during pre-club days (references are made to broken homes, absent parents, and histories of “going through s**t”).
With “Choppertown,” Directors Zack Coffman and Scott Di Lalla allow us access to a brotherhood both feared and loathed by many. They suggest that perhaps in this cold, cynical age of yuppie detachment, cutthroat backstabbing, and latchkey kids, perhaps the Sinners and their ilk are more genuine than the masses that cringe at their rumbling machines and leather vests. Beyond all the bulging biceps and beer guts, these guys ultimately appear as reliable pillars of strength for one another.
For a lot of folks out there, “Choppertown: the Sinners” will come across as a damn fine place to be.