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Hell Ride Review- A Movie That Could Have Easily Fit Into Tarantino’s Grindhouse

Hell Ride Review- A Movie That Could Have Easily Fit Into Tarantino’s Grindhouse” width=”560″/>

It’s about time someone made a movie starring Michael Madsen. While he isn’t the lead in Hell Ride, he owns this picture the way Elvis Presley owns “Hound Dog.” Sure, Big Mama Thornton sang it first, but Elvis is the one who wrestled it to the ground and beat it into submission, much the way that Michael Madsen takes his supporting actor part in this motorcycle flick and turns it into the best thing he’s put on film since he played the ear-hating Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs . Madsen is too often cast as the Tough Guy, or the Psychopath, but he’s got a gift for comedy, an ability to give giggle-inducing readings to the most straightforward lines (a trait he shares with Christopher Walken), and after years of appearing in Quentin Tarantino movies and Tarantino knock-off movies, he can take the most unwieldy chunks of text and make them seem like they just popped into his head. Playing the Gent in Hell Ride, right-hand man to director/writer Larry Bishop’s gang boss, Pistolero, he lights up the screen every time he appears in his ’60s, ruffle-front tuxedo, wielding a revolver like it’s a laser pointer.

Hell Ride came to life when Quentin Tarantino (who serves as
executive producer) met Larry Bishop, an exploitation and biker film
star-character actor from the ’60s, and told him that Bishop’s destiny
was to make the greatest biker film ever seen. Seven years later, Hell Ride
is the result and it’s not even close to the greatest biker film ever
seen — in fact, it might be one of the worst — but it does have
plenty to recommend it if you happen to come across it late at night on
cable. The first 30 minutes of this flick are like trying to watch a TV
that’s in the blender: You squint and you struggle but you still can’t
quite make out what’s going on. Pistolero is the leader of the bike
gang, the Victors, and for some reason he’s killing members of his
gang. The Gent (Madsen) is worried about the resurgence of their rival
gang, the 666ers, led by Vinnie Jones and someone named Deuce, who may
or may not be Vinnie Jones — it’s hard to tell.

If you can make it past the first 30 minutes, the picture starts to
grow on you like a fungus. There are long swatches of Tarantino-esque
dialogue that resemble nothing even close to human speech but that
start off annoying and derivative, then go on for so long they become
ridiculous… and then sort of cool in their own zonky way. There are
also naked girls — there isn’t a woman onscreen who doesn’t have her
crotch pinched or her top torn off, and while they all look like
interchangeable strippers (although I’m sure each and every one of them
is a very fine actress), if you’re into strippers and plastic bodies
then you’ll be more than satisfied. Jones has horrible things done to
him, a large number of arrows are fired into soft bodies and the film
sports the most realistic severed head I’ve ever seen.

Ultimately, however, this is tiresome, even at 85 minutes. Bishop
has the charisma and cocky machismo you’d expect from Rat Packer Joey
Bishop’s son, and Dennis Hopper and Jones turn in fun, fine cameos, as
does David Carradine who totally owns the one scene he’s in. But the
movie feels like Tarantino’s hand was up Bishop’s fanny, controlling
him like a hand puppet, and the result is a movie that could have
easily fit into Grindhouse . Which is too bad, because Grindhouse
was a movie that missed the point of grindhouse films: It was overly
indulgent and self-aware in a way true exploitation films almost never
were.

If it had been advertised as just another direct-to-video Michael Madsen vehicle, Hell Ride
would have been dandy candy. Advertised as “the greatest biker movie
ever made,” however, and with Tarantino’s name attached, it’s
trumpeting the fact that it’s going to raise your expectations only to
shatter them with one choppily-edited, barely-there scene after
another. With the original grindhouse movies, advertising was
everything, and it’s still the same today: You can’t put an
Oscar-winner’s name on the poster and serve up direct-to-video chum.
It’s a mistake the real exploitation producers never would have made.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

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