Principal Cast : Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, Adam Scott, Monet Mazur, Matt Schulze, Jay Hernandez, Will Yun Lee, Jaime Pressly, Max Beesley, Christina Milian, Faizon Love, Fredro Starr, Justina Machado, Dane Cook.
Synopsis: A biker returns from Thailand to set things straight with his girlfriend. One gang leader wants him for delivery of 2 motorbikes filled with crystal meth and another gang leader wants him for murdering his brother.
Torque is the kind of film that makes both hemispheres of my brain actively hate each other. A film that both sucks and slaps, Torque is a dichotomy of adoration of, and hatred towards, the ubiquitous Fast & The Furious franchise, of which the astoundingly awful screenplay here takes a number of potshots at whenever it can. I say adoration of because its production value and virtuosic style transposes the Furious energy from four wheels to two – here, it’s all about motorcycle culture – whilst seeming to suggest the facile nature of the Furious franchise is somehow beneath it. Truth is, Torque is Furious adjacent, in reality a parody of, and utter pastiche of all the tonal mess encumbered by Vin Diesel’s poplar (and ongoing) franchise – notably, Torque still has not received a sequel, while at the time of writing this review I’ve only recently watched the tenth main film in the Fast series. From a bombastic opening sequence reminiscent of the 90’s-era Bruckheimer output, to the slick camerawork and astounding editing, mixed with pulsating sound design, Torque wants for nothing in terms of production value. If only more thought had been put into the script.
There’s absolutely nothing about Torque that redeems its preposterous existence, and yet I’m so glad it does. Astoundingly stupid, it’s a film that has zero intelligence behind any of the on-screen decisions and probably even fewer for the off-camera ones, although the end result is a joyously ridiculous action flick that never seems to take itself too seriously. It also showcases just how easily a Hollywood career can be derailed – longtime music video director Joseph Kahn, for which Torque was his big-screen debut, has barely made another feature of note since, and given the polish behind the camera here you have to wonder what he’d do with a big budget and far better script. I actually think he’s got a really cool visual kineticism to his work, and despite how stupid this film is there’s a quality action filmmaker at work here had he been given further opportunity. This dude should have been hip-deep in like his fifth or sixth Marvel, DC or Liam Neeson movie by now.
In any case, Torque remains an enigma. The nascent motorcycle scene isn’t one I have ever been really knowledgeable about but even I can recognise that this film hypes up the grist and tribalism of the two-wheeled truculent troupes; Martin Henderson, who seems to ape the late Paul Walker for his aww-shucks cheeky good looks and chemistry with leading lady Monet Mazur (who is uber hot in this), plays a character from California who spends four or five years living in Thailand and inexplicably develops an Australian accent (LOL – the actor hails from Australia… so…), but remains steadfastly morally upright even in the face of imminent arrest. Henderson’s easygoing charm renders a lot of the film’s action hubris undercooked, mainly because he plays against the type of hardassed biker boy the rest of film aspired to project and goes for soft-focused hero. Exactly why the plot demanded his character had “fled” for five years instead of hanging around to fight the problems he (apparently) had caused himself isn’t really clear, but Henderson, for all his good looks, doesn’t exactly give off the “I’ve been riding motorcylces in Thailand and have suspicious plot armour to protect me from the viewer having any of their questions answered” vibe I think the filmmakers were hoping for.
The scattered supporting cast include a grumpy rapper doing his best ferocious schtick in Ice Cube, an unrecognisable Jamie Pressly as the girlfriend of the film’s main antagonist, Jay Hernandez and Will Yun Lee as tick-a-box minority casting characters, Adam Scott as a really silly FBI-type character, Christina Milian in an early role, and even a Fast & Furious cast-off in Matt Schulze as the film’s cheesy, spittle-worthy villain. Schulze was terrible in the original Fast & The Furious and he is – amazingly – even worse here, making his disappearance into the chasm of career vacuum all the more evident. Heck, when even Ice Cube, a naturally gifted screen presence and oftentimes terrific comedic actor, can’t summon even a chuckle in this deleterious affair, you know something’s amiss; the entire cast give it their all but this isn’t a film for “Acting”, it’s a film for showboating and cool-as-hell lines of dialogue. If only that dialogue was cool.
Similar to its four-wheeled cinematic brethren, Torque seems oblivious to the laws of physics, with Kahn’s desire to turn motorcycles into indestructible road-warrior characters themselves something of a misstep. Bikes fly through, across and beyond the screen, with the camera defying literal science to swoop, swivel, rack focus and jitter-zoom its way through this highly polished, colour corrected onslaught of editorial excess and visual noise. There’s barely a pixel of the film’s frame that isn’t in motion throughout the entire film – sure as hell the camera itself never stops moving – and by end of this headache-inducing mess you’re wondering why the filmmakers even bothered. I mean, it’s not as if this film is aimed at the vast motorcycling community, mainly because it treats them like maladjusted cowboys with penchant for speed and lawlessness, while casual filmgoers will sit there baffled at what the film’s intent might have been.
Torque has been the victim of online delight thanks to one of cinema’s more egregious displays of product placement – the act of putting in a notable brand or label as a form of advertising within the film, the price of which usually goes to offsetting the production budget somewhat – during a laughable “bike fight” between Mazur and Pressly late in the film’s third act, and I can attest to the utter insanity of just how obvious it all is. This pales into comparison to the film’s climax, a high-velocity race between Henderson and Schulze through Los Angeles streets on two overpowered jet-engine motorbikes that has to be seen to be believed: it’s a VFX nonsense in which a bike outraces flames and multiple vehicular accidents to detonate at precisely the correct moment of release, whereupon the villain is vanquished and the hero emerges relatively unscathed. It’s one of those sequences that I cannot believe was storyboarded by living human beings, it’s so astoundingly dumb. It is, however, a load of fun, so make of that what you will.
Torque is preposterously dumb, but it’s also ridiculously awesome at the same time. The creative part of my brain always finds it a blast to watch, while the logical half of my brain wants to collapse in upon itself in shame. Again, a dichotomy, and not one easily resolved if, like me, the 90’s and early 2000’s were the defining cinematic era of your life. Resplendently idiotic, Torque is a fascinating example of just how awesome a terrible film can be if you put enough energy into making it entertaining for no reason other than to seem awesome. As stupid as it all is, Torque is a blast.