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HELL RIDE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, Vinnie Jones, Leonor Varela, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper
Director:  Larry Bishop
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Dimension
Features:  See Review
Length:  83 Minutes
Release Date:  October 28, 2008

“Here’s to the three Bs…bikes, beer, and booty.”

Film *

Quentin Tarantino sure knows his B-movies and B-movie stars, so it was no surprise to his fans when he hired Larry Bishop for a small but hilariously memorable role in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (“What are you telling me?  That you’re about as useless as an a$$hole right here?”).  Bishop earned his brand of fame starring in a few low budget biker movies in the 70s.  Quentin apparently told Larry that it was Bishop’s destiny to make the greatest biker movie ever.

The question is, therefore…when will he make it?  The combination of Bishop and Tarantino was enough to make me curious about Hell Ride, but this is no Grindhouse.  Bishop may have made a few of these in front of the camera, but he proceeds like a second rate film student behind it.  He manages to do the near impossible, which is to take a very basic revenge story and convolute it almost to the point of incomprehension, and he also manages to fill the screen with beautiful, bare women and keep it completely unsexy.  I mean, the sexist moments involve Leonor Varela, who actually convinced her director that she could make her scenes steamier without taking off her clothes.  That's actually a valuable lesson; sexiness isn't how much you show, but what you do with it.

The story, such as it is, involves Pistolero (Bishop), the “pres” of the Victors biker gang, on a mission that has apparently been going on for decades.  As a teen, his youthful love was killed by Deuce (Carradine), leader of the 666ers, when she was holding out drug money from him.  Pistolero promised to enact revenge, and to make sure that her ill-gotten gains found their way into the hands of her mysterious son.

With the aid of The Gent (Madsen) and Comanche (Balfour), the Victors are out to do battle with the 666ers.  But it won’t be easy…there’s treachery afoot.  Not to mention booze, drugs, and women…all of which serves to distract the characters, or maybe us, so we forget about what’s going on.  It worked more than a few times.

Where’s the sense of fun?  This is no throwback movie, or an attempt to channel the hoaky spirit of those loveable low-budget films that made grindhouses such popular weekend hangouts.  If anything, this is an exercise in imitation of Tarantino, but without the talent.  Having so many cast members from Kill Bill is one thing, but mimicking Quentin’s iconic walking shot from Reservoir Dogs or stretches of dialogue that have nothing to do with the story but delight anyway are just pale imitations that make you miss the real thing all the more.

Not even the presence of Dennis Hopper gives credence to this as a biker movie.  If anything, it will only make you wish you were watching Easy Rider again.  There’s nothing wrong with this cast, but Bishop’s screenplay only goes for the most base and improbably direct lines that no one could make sound good.  Michael Madsen has actually said that Hell Ride was the most fun he'd had with a movie in a long time.  I'm glad SOMEONE could say that.

My advice is to not be fooled by Tarantino’s name above the credits or the notion that this might be a third Grindhouse installment.  Hell Ride is a pointless vacuous exercise in weak imitation that isn’t even smart enough to wander accidentally into parody.

Video ***

The anamorphic widescreen presentation is fine…many of the scenes are in the harsh desert sun, and the feel is a little washed out and over-saturated, but that’s a visual choice.  Images are generally clear and well presented.

Audio ***

The constant roar of motorcycles keeps the subwoofer rumbling along, and the bits of music, none of which I recognized, adds some dynamic range here and there.  A few action sequences keep the track lively, but the use of the rear channels seemed somewhat minimal.

Features ***1/2

The extras include a commentary from Bishop and his cinematographer Scott Kevan, plus featurettes on making the movie, the guys, the girls, and the bikes, a video diary from Michael Madsen, and the red band trailer.

Summary:

You’d think Hell Ride could manage to give someone in the mood for trash a quick fix, but this isn’t one of those so-bad-it’s-good kind of flicks.  Larry Bishop is an amusing performer, but parlaying his youthful biker movie experience into one of his own was not a productive idea.

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