Movie Review: Hell Ride

Hell Ride2008. Starring Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour. Directed by Larry Bishop.

Most of the biker movies I’ve seen have been content with stressing the antisocial appeal of the gangs — beer-drinking, authority-flipping, whatever-rebelling nature of a bunch of smelly guys. Plus there was always one guy who took things too far. Few, if any, have had a message other than drop out, turn on and over act. The Quentin Tarantino-produced Hell Ride had a couple things going for it. First, it wasn’t made in the ’60s or ’70s, so it doesn’t revel in the fact that the lead characters smoke weed or chug beer. Second, it doesn’t seem to require the use of counterculture vernacular like “far out,” “groovy” or “man,” all of which make standards of the genre so tiresome. And third, it has the benefit of being made 30 years after most other movies of its type, so it takes the opportunity to steal all the cool aspects of the films that came before.

Biker movie regular Larry Bishop, who also wrote and directed the movie, stars as Pistolero, the leader of the Victors, a gang battling with the 666ers. Pistolero has two lieutenants, the Gent (Madsen, looking cool in tuxedo colors and arms outstretched by ape hangers) and Comanche (Balfour), a young pup he treats like a son. But there’s trouble a-brewin’, as there usually is where gangs are concerned. A member of the Victors has been executed, and the 666ers are beginning to move back into the territory. We learn through flashbacks that, on July 4, 1976, a woman named Cherokee Kisum was killed by members of the 666ers, and it seems that Pistolero has vowed to avenge her. He enlists the help of Eddie Zero (Dennis Hopper) and begins to act on that vow.

I like how the plot unfolds, so I’m going to hold off on details. Needless to say, an updated version of the biker flick, produced by Tarantino, is going to be brutal. And the sexual carnival that’s always portrayed as being attracted to gang life is amped up here. (Although the women here, when not portrayed as disposable, are laughably overwritten sex kittens.) There’s even a peyote-fueled hallucination scene. Then David Carradine makes a cameo and gets a couple of the movie’s best lines. There’s a twisting, meandering revenge-powered plot that keeps you guessing until the end.

This is not a very well-reviewed film, and there must be a story why it spent next to no time in theaters. But it’s not as stupid as earlier biker films, with their parties full of ugly people and “outrageous” behavior, and it’s not nearly as brutal as most of the slasher flicks still pulling in the teenagers. It’s much more like Reservoir Dogs on Wheels than Hells Angels on Wheels, and that’s a good thing, in my book.

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