An unsuccessful homage of the B-movie biker pictures of the '60s and '70s, "Hell Ride" acts like it's too cool for the room, and that's a problem. Cinematically speaking, writer-director Larry Bishop might try to walk like Quentin Tarantino and talk like Quentin Tarantino (who executive produces), but he doesn't have anywhere near the chops to pull it off. Done in by an indecipherable narrative and often perplexing, quirky-for-quirky's- sake dialogue, the film simply doesn't take any time to let loose or have fun.
The story is simple and yet needlessly shady, all the better to create plot holes as the chronology swirls back and forth in time. From what can be comprehended, leader Pistolero (Larry Bishop), longtime compadre The Gent (Michael Madsen) and newcomer Comanche (Eric Balfour) are three members of the Victors biker gang who are out to even a long-standing score. Thirty-two years ago, the 666 cyclers brutally murdered Pistolero's honey, Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones), and now, in the present, the life of a fellow Victor has met an untimely end at the hands of the same rival gang, headed by the ceaseless Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). The time has come for Pistolero to lay out his own special brand of whoop-ass.
"Hell Ride" is a maze of unanswered questions wrapped in a storyline that is both anticlimactic and not at all gratifying for viewers who have patiently waited eighty minutes for a payoff. It's virtually impossible to figure out the whats, hows and whys of the story, but here are just a sampling of questions the picture leaves in its wake: (1) Why was Cherokee targeted in the first place? (2) Why has it taken three decades for Pistolero to go after the men responsible? (3) What role does the fire-and-sex-obsessed Nada (Leonor Varela) play in the proceedings when she seems to be straddling sides? (4) If Comanche is really who he is revealed to be in the third act, then why does he look like he is still in his twenties when a simple calculation determines the character should be in his forties? (5) How is Billy Wings connected to the death of someone so long ago when he barely looks old enough to have been alive in 1976? The queries go on. In between the happily gratuitous nudity, nonsensical dialogue exchanges, detached emotional content, and umpteenth stylistic flashbacks, good luck finding any clarity.
Not to be confused with the more famous grindhouse biker flicks of a bygone era, or, for that matter, a motion picture as quintessentially American and groundbreaking as 1969's "Easy Rider
," "Hell Ride" misses out on that critical sense of freedom on the open road. Cinematography by Scott Kevan (2007's "Borderland
") is flat and undistinguished, a collage of muddy colors filling out a featureless desert landscape, while the characters, all of them less than savory, lack development or even a meager sign of growth. The confrontational finale, coming and going in a flash, is not at all the adrenaline-pumper one expects. Instead, violence is heaped easily and bluntly upon the foe and the end credits are cued. That's it?
For a film that never rustles the viewer's spirits or makes him or her care, credit "Hell Ride" for at least biding its time well. The sex scenes are veritably erotic and funny, not to be taken seriously but still doing the trick. Intrigue is well-executed as the story flashes from the present to the past throughout, revealing progressively more as it goes along. The actors seem to be having a good time, too. Writer-director Larry Bishop, also in the lead role, has macho magnetism going for him big-time as Pistolero. A man well into his fifties who spends a sizable chunk of the movie being seduced by women half his age would appear to be a signal of filmmaker wish-fulfillment, but Bishop earns every young thing thrown his way. In a colorful supporting turn, Dennis Hopper (2008's "Swing Vote
") chews the scenery with the best of them as veteran 666 biker Eddie Zero, and Leonor Varela (2002's "Blade II
") is a hoot as in-heat hellcat Nada.
If "Hell Ride" were to have ever succeeded as a return to the glory days of the cult drive-in item, it would have needed a director less in love with aping Tarantino's style and more interested in go-for-broke energy and mood. The attempt itself can be appreciated, and the film does, indeed, work in spurts. Once the cards have been dealt and the end credits roll, however, there is nothing to grab onto. The action is negligible. The wordplay is awkward. The revenge plot is perfunctory since no one seems all that upset about the initial victim. Like a dream that vanishes the moment you awake, the memory of "Hell Ride" is foggy and half-forgotten mere hours after seeing it.