Quentin Tarantino didn't lend his name to Hell Ride in order to make money, rather to make a point. He still must be wincing over the lukewarm reception for last year's Grindhouse, a loving tribute to the cruddy movies of his misspent youth. Along with director Robert Rodriguez, he re-created the feel of watching a zombie/killer car double feature complete with faux previews for even worse coming attractions. Grindhouse was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, which may be why it failed to excite many viewers. The motorcycle gang melodrama Hell Ride shoves that tongue through the cheek like a switchblade. This movie feels like the real deal, a "whopper of a chopper opera," as one biker describes it.
Tarantino is credited only as executive producer; Hell Ride is the baby of Larry Bishop. His backstory: Son of the late Rat Packer Joey Bishop, Larry starred in such 1960s and '70s grindhouse hits as Chrome and Hot Leather and The Savage Seven, then Tarantino resurrected his career with a role in Kill Bill, Vol. 2.
Bishop can't act: Check out his pelvis-jutting, wild-eyed, gravel-voiced portrayal of Pistolero, leader of the Victors motorcycle gang. He can't write a respectable screenplay, considering the low-rent Pulp Fiction non sequiturs (a Marcel Proust reference before dying?). He isn't much of a director, either, unless shifting film stocks, peyote-fueled flashbacks and spaghetti Western stare-downs count.
But he does know how to make an audience cringe, laugh, blush and maybe leave early. In this exploitative case, that's enough.
The Victors have a rolling feud with the 666s, a biker gang led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). Pistolero's flashbacks to the 1969 murder of a single mother, and that necklace he solemnly fondles when no one's looking suggest he's seeking vengeance.
But against whom? A new Victor nicknamed Comanche (Eric Balfour) may be a traitor; Pistolero's longtime accomplice, the Gent (Michael Madsen), is definitely a loose cannon. Any other Victors could be trouble, and killable, since they're played by easily disposable actors. Old cronies (Dennis Hopper, David Carradine) may have different motives now. Then there's Billy, waiting in the wings.
Hell Ride is essentially all those forces revving their engines, pausing for profane macho bonding then zeroing in on a throat-slashing, or an compressed-air crossbow arrow in the gut. When the movie isn't being sadistic, it's gratuitously sexist, with biker bars brimming with nude women raring to beer wrestle.
Calling Bishop's movie tasteless, amateurish junk is beside the point. A film this savagely, ruthlessly wrong on all artistic counts can't be ignored. Hell Ride is the worst movie of 2008 that I can't wait to see again.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.