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Friday, September 27, 2013

HELL RIDE -- movie review by porfle

Is the phrase "Quentin Tarantino Presents" before a film's title a reliable sign of quality?  After watching HELL RIDE (2008), my answer to that question would be, in a word, no.  And in two words, hell no.  If this is any indication, then Tarantino might as well start calling people into the bathroom after he takes a dump so that he can proudly "present" the results to them.

What little storyline there is often gets lost in the seemingly random editing, or is put on hold every time some mangy old biker dudes get their hands on the non-stop parade of salacious silicone babes who seem to infest this flick like tribbles.  What it all boils down to is that way back in 1976, some rival bad-guy bikers called the Six Six Sixers murdered good-guy biker Pistolero's girlfriend, and now, thirty some-odd years later, Pistolero (writer-director Larry Bishop), with the help of fellow gang members the Victors, decides to get revenge. 

I've read that Bishop used to be a biker himself and has firsthand experience with the lifestyle, which seems to add zero validity to this particular project.  Basically what you've got here is a bunch of middle-aged actors who have been roped into a turkey and they know it, so they're just goofing their way through it.  Michael Madsen, who has been known to sleepwalk through films he doesn't take seriously, invests about as much effort in the role of Pistolero's devil-may-care cohort "The Gent" (he wears a tuxedo jacket instead of a leather jacket for some damn reason) as he would if his neighbor pointed a home video camera at him. 

David Carradine, as rival gang leader "The Deuce", is there simply to lend whatever coolness factor he can to his few scenes, while Dennis Hopper comes off as nothing more than a silly old fart.  Even Vinnie Jones as evil, oral-sex-obsessed rival biker "Billy Wings" seems embarrassed here, which may be the film's most noteworthy accomplishment. 

As for young Eric Balfour as the mysterious newcomer Cheyenne, he seems to take the whole thing about as seriously as Bishop, meaning that he's just as arch and stiff a presence.  Nobody,  however, can match Larry Bishop's hernia-inducing attempts to be a badass--at times, he treats the simple act of standing in one spot with such sinew-stretching intensity that we fear he may implode.

The movie is filled with flashbacks, flash forwards, changes in style, changes in film stock, switches from color to black-and-white and back, zoom-ins, zoom-outs, focus fiddling, and most other types of cinematic frou-frou you can think of, but there's no rhyme or reason to any of it.  Bishop's clearly trying to be arty in several sequences, but his visuals look sloppy instead.  And when his character goes out into the desert and takes peyote in one scene, this gives the director an excuse to indulge in the usual meandering drug-trip nonsense with its skin-deep philosophizing.

There are homages to Tarantino's homages, such as a mysterious box whose contents we never get to see, and a POV shot looking up from inside the box that's a miniature version of the way Tarantino shoots people opening car trunks.  There's the jukebox soundtrack, featuring several truly ear-curdling songs.  And of course, there's the dialogue.  HELL RIDE contains stretches of dialogue that might make you wish Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega had never discussed foot massages or mentioned the words "Royale with cheese." 

At one point Pistolero and his aptly-named girlfriend Nada (sexy Leonor Varela) get into a pun war that includes every possible variation of the word "fire"--she's got a fire that needs putting out, he's got the firehose, she's a fire alarm, he's a fire-eater, etc.  It's a wonder they didn't manage to work "fire ants" into it somewhere.  Later, Bishop starts doing the same thing with the word "business", and you start wishing you could just grab a gun and shoot at the screen like Elvis used to do.

The impression I get from this movie's publicity is that if you liked GRINDHOUSE, you should love HELL RIDE.  But as far as I'm concerned, whatever you may have liked about one is sadly lacking in the other.  Getting the "right" actors together and having them be super tough and spout loopy dialogue at each other doesn't make a good movie if there isn't a decent story and a solid directorial vision.  HELL RIDE's problem is that it thinks it's a cool-as-hell movie to begin with, but doesn't have what it takes to actually be one.

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