Hell Ride (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hell Ride Poster

Hell Ride is pretty much what a viewer would expect from a movie of that name. The film is chock full of motorcycles, cheesy dialogue, naked women, and over-the-top acting. It's part homage and part parody and works best when seen as an unabashed, Z-grade throwback. The film is at times enjoyable in a lurid, campy way, although not so consistently that I can recommend it to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan of the genre. Nostalgia is a poor foundation for any movie, and the film's visceral pleasures are too limited to effectively compensate for the lack of credible characters or a coherent storyline.

Hell Ride is "presented by Quentin Tarantino" and that makes some sense since writer/director Larry Bishop, who has a cult following dating back to his late '60s and early '70s appearances in exploitation biker films, spends most of the movie borrowing from Tarantino. (The circle is complete since Tarantino was heavily influenced by the kinds of films that were Bishop's bread and butter.) The problem is, Bishop isn't as talented as Tarantino and the "steals" are easily spotted and dismissed. There are passages of dialogue that want to sound like Tarantino, but lack the rhythm. There's a scene where the characters walk toward the camera in slow motion while something blows up behind them. And there are times when the characters do cool things for no reason other than to be seen doing cool things. The narrative also jumps back and forth in time helter-skelter, recalling the way Tarantino structured Pulp Fiction. Whether Tarantino had any hand in the actual production or was merely brought in after the fact to bless it, be assured that this isn't a "Tarantino movie." Rather, it's drive-in fare.

The movie is about a war between two rival gangs of bikers - the Victors and the 666ers. The Victors are led by the grizzled Pistolero (Larry Bishop) and his two lieutenants, The Gent (Michael Madsen) and Comanche (Eric Balfour). They are aided and abetted by old-timer Eddie Zero (Dennis Hopper), who was at one time Pistolero's right-hand man. The 666ers are run by a sadist named Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones), but the real power behind the throttle is Deuce (David Carradine), who has turned in his hog for a business suit. The feud between the gangs goes back 32 years, to 1976, when theft and murder created a legacy of blood and treachery. This is a guys' film through and through. The women are for the most part ornamental. Few of them wear any clothing and, when they do, it's either skin-tight and/or see-through. They always want sex and aren't subtle about getting it. Bishop seems to be aiming this fantasy aspect at 13-year old boys who have seen Playboy centerfolds but not yet encountered any real women. Maybe it's more fun that way. Some of the scenes with actresses writhing like snakes are a little embarrassing. The way women demand attention of one sort or another from Pistolero indicate he's some sort of sex god, even though he's old, disheveled, and looks like he could use a shower. But if you're the writer and director, that's the sort of attention you're going to give to yourself as the lead actor.

Bishop can't act and most of those around him aren't bothering to try. Michael Madsen is doing his best to amp up his tough guy persona to the max, but he can't hide his apparent boredom. Talk about sleepwalking through a part... Eric Balfour looks like he wishes he was back on 24, where at least the dialogue made a little sense and he didn't have to mumble it under his breath. Dennis Hopper and David Carradine get the joke and seem to be enjoying it. The women are apparently all exhibitionists so they don't mind revealing that they have no tan lines. The men partake of their charms but there are some disconcerting moments when one gets the feeling they'd rather be straddling a bike than a female. I guess that's par for the course in the genre.

Hell Ride has been made with a very specific audience in mind and those who fall outside of the perimeter may call this the worst film of 2008. I see what Bishop is going for and I recognize that he understands how inane, derivative, and cheesy all of this is. But there's something missing from his recipe. Hell Ride should be funnier than it is. The dialogue should crackle rather than hang limp. Somewhere along the way, there should be a moment or two of exhilaration. The film has energy but isn't well paced. Nothing about it quite gels. Like I said, it's a drive-in flick, particularly if you're at the drive-in with something in mind other than watching the movie.

Hell Ride (United States, 2008)

Director: Larry Bishop
Cast: Larry Bishop, Dennis Hopper, Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Eric Balfour
Screenplay: Larry Bishop
Cinematography: Scott Kevan
Music: Daniele Luppi
U.S. Distributor: Dimension Films
Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2008-08-08
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1