Less than 30 seconds into Torque, a loud, rowdy, biker-circus of a movie packed with high-speed, lowbrow motorcycle nonsense, and underscored by plenty of maximum-volume noise, a studly biker named Ford (played by Martin Henderson) disses a pair of angry hot rodders, popping a “screw you” wheelie as he burns up the road right between the two of them.
It is, one must admit, a spectacular wheelie.
As it turns out, however, it’s just the first of many wheelies in the entertainingly-bad Torque, a dizzying farce in which the cocky Ford attempts to win back his ex-girlfriend, while sticking it to an evil, mullet-sporting biker named, uh, Henry (Matt Schulze), simultaneously avoiding the menacing attentions of scowling gangleader Trey (Ice Cube), who thinks Ford killed his brother. Or something. It’s all supremely stupid, but that, of course, is beside the point.
The point is the motorcycles, big, loud, fast ones, racing up and down the California desert, leaping like magical frogbots onto passing cars, towering rooftops—even a speeding bullet train. And every few minutes, often right in the middle of a vicious battle or a gnarly chase scene, someone decides it’s time for another wheelie. We see various kinds, both the standard back wheel version, and the occasional front-wheel style.
Now, I’m not complaining. It’s all good fun. But Jesus! After the first thirty or forty wheelies, it just starts to look like someone needs to show off.
“Hey, the wheelie is a tradition!” defends David Edwards, editor-in-chief of the long-running Cycle World Magazine. “The wheelie goes all the way back to Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, rearing up in the air on his hind legs. The wheelie has always been the mark of expert bike control and bravado. Cars can’t do it. The average motorcyclist can’t do it.”
Cycle World, headquartered in Newport Beach, in Southern California, has been extolling the virtues of wide roads and grease-scented garages, exploring all aspects of motorcycle culture since its inception in 1962. As for Edwards, he’s been riding motorcycles since he was 12, and as he now explains, wheelies, burnouts and all those other eye-clutching stunts, are nothing less than visceral symbols of the enduring mythos and technological power of the mighty motorcycle.
“But yeah,” he adds, “it’s definitely kind of a showoff move.”
“In Torque,” I point out, “they pop wheelies while pivoting around on one wheel, shooting at other bikers with one hand while doing a handstand with the other.”
“Yeah. That’s pure Hollywood,” Edwards replies. “You certainly can pivot a wheelie, but you can’t do it at high speeds. And taking a hand off the handlebar to shoot at someone is probably not the best technique, not if you plan to remain upright on your bike.”
According to Edwards—whose favorite motorcycle movie is Bruce Brown’s 1971 documentary On Any Sunday—mortorcycles have always attracted high-testosterone, risk-taking, thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies, and the movies have been trying to capture a sense of that on film, rarely coming close to the real thing. But even the fake thing, now and then can get your blood pumping.
“It’s hard to beat smokin’ tires, loud exhaust, and people jumping their bikes on and off of trains,” Edwards laughs. “That’s pretty exciting, and for Hollywood, it seems, it’s almost irresistible.”
For all my quibbling, Torque is awfully exciting at times. The dialogue, though, could have used a bit of jump start.
“My favorite line,” I admit, “was when Ford says, ‘I live my life a quarter-mile at a time.’ What does that mean?”
“Actually, there is a little bit of truth in that line,” Edwards says, laughing again. “There really is. Whether you’re living your life a quarter-mile at a time or just a Sunday afternoon now and then on some back road, there are places a motorcycle can take you that no other form of transportation, no other hobby, no other lifestyle will take you. On a bike, you are out in the open, you’re almost flying across the land with not much more than two wheels and an engine.
“If Torque can convey some of that, than maybe it succeeds on some level,” he proclaims. “When it comes to a fast ride on a motorcycle, very few things can approach it in terms of pure excitement.”
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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