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Hell Ride
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Black-And-Blue Highway"
1 stars

On an evening when my entertainment options included such potential choices as seeing “Pineapple Express” for a second time, watching the Cubs battle it out against the Astros or sitting through an extended rain delay during the Cubs game when a moderate-sized monsoon hit the Chicagoland area, why, you might ask, would I willingly choose to cast my lot with seeing the likes of “Hell Ride,” a squalid little homage to the long-dead biker movie genre that virtually every colleague that I know who has seen it has described it using the kind of vituperative and venomous terms that they reserve only for films that are truly and unspeakably awful? Well, I could cop out and offer up my long-stated mantra that I will sit through practically any movie at least once (with the exception of anything made by Henry Jaglom) and while that might be true, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. You see, I actually wanted to see “Hell Ride” for a couple of deeply twisted and deeply personal reasons. For one, I must confess that I have always been a sucker for a biker movie for as far back as my early childhood when, as I remember it, my mother turned on the 3:00 Movie one afternoon so that I could bask in the glory that was “Easy Rider.” (I should note at this point that she continues to deny doing such a thing to this very day and while I admit that the idea of her watching such a film is absolutely absurd, I am still certain that she did turn it on that fateful afternoon.) Perhaps because they involve people doing things that I know that I would never do in real life--wear heavy leather jackets, guzzle beer in public, get elaborate and obscene tattoos, instigate brutal bike-chain whippings at the drop of a hat and, of course, riding motorcycles--I have always had a strange fondness for the genre, whether the film in question was an avowed classic like “The Wild Angels” or “Hell’s Angels on Wheels,” mid-level ephemera like “The Losers,” “Sidehackers” or the immortal “Werewolves of Wheels” or a more recent take on the form like “Stone Cold” or the crackpot macho masterpiece “Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man.” (Oddly enough, however, I have never had much use for “Easy Rider” outside of the all-too-brief presence of Jack Nicholson--anyone who still worships that film as a transcendental work of art clearly hasn’t actually watched the damn thing since 1969 or they would realize just how staggeringly dull it really is.)

There is also the fact, which is probably a little more known to anyone who reads these reviews regularly, is that I also have a certain fondness for really bad movies--not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill boring junk but the kind of bad that makes you shake your head and wonder what the hell the people behind the film could have possibly been thinking when they agreed to make it. With the combination of the savage comments regarding its quality from those who have already seen it and the fact that it was written and directed by Larry Bishop, the same guy who gave us the infamous “Mad Dog Time,” a jaw-droppingly lousy exercise in faux-Tarantino nonsense that inspired some of the nastiest bad reviews ever written. (The one penned by Roger Ebert in particular was a little masterpiece of the form and is well worth abandoning this review right now in order to go look it up--trust me, I won’t mind.) Naturally, the mere possibility that Bishop might have outdid himself, coupled with its biker trappings, meant that when I arrived at the theater for the screening, it was with something resembling actual enthusiasm--cynically conceived and deeply ironic enthusiasm, to be sure, but enthusiasm nevertheless.

Inevitably, it took “Hell Ride” approximately four minutes to completely strip away that enthusiasm and replace it with a mounting sense of dread that the next 80-odd minutes of its running time might well be among the longest and most excruciating of my moviegoing life in a long, long time (non-musical division). This is a film that is loud, ugly, deeply unpleasant, queasily violent, sexist, misanthropic and a black mark on the once proud and noble tradition of the sleazy biker movie genre. Of course, “Hell Ride” is the kind of movie in which such qualities are not necessarily detriments--without them, you might wind up with “Wild Hogs 2” and outside of the accountants at Disney, I don’t think that any of us want to see that, do we? No, the great sin of this film is that on top of all those “qualities,” it also manages to be painfully and brutally boring to boot, which is arguably the greatest sin that a movie like this can perpetrate upon its viewers. That said, there are plenty of lesser cinematic sins out there as well and if “Hell Ride” does nothing else, and it really doesn’t, it certainly tries to cram them all together into one giant orgy of awfulness.

Actually, “Hell Ride” isn’t so much a throwback to the biker movies of yore as it is a throwback to the superviolent spaghetti westerns of yore, only replacing the horses with choppers and Clint Eastwood with a guy who looks and sounds frighteningly like Chris Elliott in his Skink the Bounty Hunter guise. This would be our anti-hero, Pistolero (Bishop), the leader of the Victors, an aging motorcycle gang that consists of longtime associate The Gent (Michael Madsen), mysterious newcomer Comanche (Eric Balfour) and any number of lesser minions who appear whenever someone needs to be shot, stabbed, slit, strangled, cross bowed, set ablaze or some combination of the above, which occurs more frequently than you might think based on the available evidence. Most of those acts of violence are perpetrated upon them by the 666’s, a longtime rival gang that is led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and which has recently revived itself for the sole purpose of bloodily eradicating Pistolero and his men, apparently due to some feud that has its roots in the murder of a woman named Cherokee Kisum back in 1976. Flitting about the sidelines are a couple of old-timers played by Dennis Hopper and David Carradine, who make appearances here either because their mere presence suggests a blessing for the makers of this nouveau-biker epic from members of the old guard or because they need a few bucks for gas money.

Although the plot jumps through any number of hoops in order to try to convince us that it is more complex than it really is (plenty of leaps between the past and the present and plenty of visual tricks meant to evoke the biker movies of old), “Hell Ride” quickly falls into a narrative pattern that will seem all too familiar to those few people who actually sat through “Mad Dog Time.” In every other scene, two or more character will walk into frame and begin exchanging faux-tough guy banter about this, that or the other thing. After a couple of minutes, one of the two will suddenly find themselves shot, stabbed, slit, strangled, crossbowed, set ablaze or some combination of the above. During the scenes in which there is no not-random-at-all violence to speak of, we are generally treated to either shots of characters riding through the desert on their motorcycles or shots of countless women stripping and undulating for the camera--the latter actually turns out to be the more unpleasant of the two since most of the scenes of naked undulation also involve the sight of Larry Bishop pawing the participants in such an unpleasant manner that I hope that each one of them received stunt pay, not to mention a month’s worth of penicillin.

Of course, the only thing more vile and unpleasant than the results of Larry Bishop standing in front of a movie camera is Larry Bishop standing behind a movie camera. The guy literally has no idea of how to tell a story, cinematically or otherwise, and as the film goes on and on, it actually seems as if he is somehow regressing further and further with each scene. Yes, he has managed to occasionally evoke the slapdash look and feel of old-school biker movies (a few lesser examples of which he actually appeared in himself back in the day, such as “The Savage Seven“ and “Angels Unchained“) but all that does is prove that he has the ability to make a film that looks and sounds just as crappy as the ones that used to play in drive-ins more than 40 years ago--considering that basic film production has elevated itself over the years to such a degree that even the most amateurish productions are often able to look at least somewhat professional, this is not a compliment by any means. As a tough-guy lead, he is spectacularly unconvincing--throughout the film, he tries to approximate the clench-jawed vocal stylings of Charles Bronson but sounds more like Tina Fey doing her imitation of someone trying to approximate the clench-jawed vocal stylings of Charles Bronson and while he tries to look appropriately gritty and rough-hewed, he just looks like a well-fed suburban dope in the throes of a way-past-mid-life crisis who is in desperate need of one of those showers featured in “Silkwood.” All in all, we have what may be the least convincing attempt by a filmmaker to position himself as a big-screen badass since the semi-immortal Tony Anthony appeared in the deathless likes of “Comin at Ya!” and “Treasure of the Four Crowns.”

Whoops--it seems as if I need to make a clarification regarding something I said earlier in this review. You will recall that I made a dismissive reference to the possibility of a “Wild Hogs 2” and suggested that no one outside of the bean counters at Disney would actually want to see such a thing. As it turns out, not only is there a “Wild Hogs 2” that is currently in production, it will actually feature Robin Williams gadding about with John Travolta, Tim Allen and the rest. Sounds horrible, right? Sounds like something that most people would rightly head for the hills instead of enduring for themselves, right? Sounds like a near-complete abdication of anything remotely resembling artistic principles, right? And yet, “Hell Ride” is so bad that if I were forced to choose between seeing it again or seeing my worst nightmare version of what “Wild Hogs 2” might entail, I am fairly certain that I would select the latter without a moment’s hesitation.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16949&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/08/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/17/09 Sam Wow. Am I the only one who LOVED this movie?!?! 5 stars
10/14/09 mr.mike Madsen and a coupla hotties make for an OK biker revenge flick. 3 stars
6/01/09 Von R You can see what they were trying to do, but they failed pretty bad. Sad really. 2 stars
1/23/08 Mr Freeze This movie is one Hell of a Ride! Pun intended. Madsen was tits as per use, natch 5 stars
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  08-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 28-Oct-2008


  DVD: 28-Oct-2008

Directed by
  Larry Bishop

Written by
  Larry Bishop

  Larry Bishop
  Dennis Hopper
  Michael Madsen

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