I've never seen a film directed by a penis before. We came close with 1984's "Hardbodies," but "Hell Ride" appears to have been fully helmed by Larry Bishop's male appendage. Congratulations, Mr. Bishop, I salute this achievement...from a safe and hygienic distance.
A motorcycle gang riding along sweltering southwestern interstates, the Victors are made up of leader Pistolero (Larry Bishop), The Gent (Michael Madsen), and Comanche (Eric Balfour). They're on the hunt for revenge, dealing with numerous double-crosses and the wrath of the Six-Six-Six gang, run by homicidal maniac Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). As the Victors inch closer to reclaiming their rightful score, their allegiance to each other is tested, with Pistolero finding the only thing more dangerous than his fellow gang members is the trail of discarded women he's left behind.
Frankly, I'm not sure what "Hell Ride" is actually about. This is not a film that invites academic concentration on the plot, since to find the story, one would have to claw through a thick membrane of sleaze just to view at some drama.
Instead of "Masterpiece Theater," we have a keyhole peep into writer/director Larry Bishop's B-movie id. The star of such drive-in cult classics as "Chrome and Hot Leather" and "The Savage Seven," Bishop is perhaps best known to today's audiences as Madsen's hilariously irate strip-club boss in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill." The reference is important to note because Tarantino executive produces "Hell Ride," and his fingerprints are smudged all over this nutty production.
Not that Tarantino's involvement is a bad thing. It's quite the opposite, encouraging Bishop to indulge his every biker gang fantasy with "Hell Ride," turning the picture into a colorful midway experience stocked with throat-slittings, peyote visions, bicentennial flashbacks, nude oil wrestling, Madsen sitting in a tree pretending he's an owl, and derrieres galore. Heavens, does Bishop enjoy the female hind quarters. Russ Meyer had breasts, Tarantino adores feet, and Larry Bishop can't get enough ass; a potent feminine symbol the film spends huge chunks of the screentime admiring. However oddball the fixation remains, it sort of mixes in nicely with the film's lurid tone of lust and larceny, which Bishop exploits for maximum discomfort.
Goosing the lunacy further is the screenplay, in which Bishop prepares elongated, twisty speeches for his characters, not for expositional purposes, only to hear them speak his streetwise poetry. It's a breathless Tarantino Jr. writing effort, with the actors rambling on and on trying to maneuver around this sunburned iambic pentameter, with Bishop himself only succeeding in making the stylized lip service compelling. It's an idiosyncratic screenplay with a handful of generously goofy moments, but the rest is warming-lamp Tarantino leftovers.
Bishop is better painting a grizzled, dusty, sun-caked atmosphere, manipulating "Hell Ride" into a rough revenge orchestration with macho, filthy men and their steeds of steel. There's a grungy, lascivious spirit to "Hell Ride" that's easy to tap into, only Bishop isn't supportive of a consistent tone, chasing tiny bad ideas instead of paying attention to the dizzyingly hard-boiled whole. The picture has enough testosterone running through its veins to put the entire sport of MMA to shame, not to mention a Dennis Hopper cameo of atypical charm, but "Hell Ride" is too insular to reach out and grab the audience.
"Hell Ride" is a kaleidoscopic film of multiple film stocks and severe degrees of post-production tinkering. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) image manages to contain Bishop's wild vision with solid color reproduction, satisfying black levels, and interesting leathery detail on the actors. Fleshtones tend to run very hot, but it feels more of an artistic choice than a poor DVD effort.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track deals with numerous guns, deafening bikes, and a blaring soundtrack, making for a persuasive listening experience. The film plays best at top volume, with a satisfying separation of music and dialogue, and a wonderful snap of violence in the surround channels.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with cinematographer Scott Kevan and writer/director/star Larry Bishop is frighteningly loaded with production information. Kevan deserves kudos here, feeding Bishop multiple topics that the charismatic performer explores until he's out of breath. There's extensive conversation on the history of the film and the technicalities of the shoot, but asides concerning the overt sexuality of the script, skintight costuming, the personalization of the bikes, and the tongue-twisting dialogue provide the most flavor. Bishop tends to ramble, but it's a good quality, especially when he waxes rhapsodic about the actresses.
What's missing here? Quentin Tarantino, who normally jumps at the chance to chat with his idols.
"The Making of 'Hell Ride'" (8:51) is refreshingly free from brain-dead promotional concentration, spotlighting Bishop and his efforts to restore the biker genre to the screen. Yes, there's plenty of praise tossed around, but it's entertaining to hear Bishop explain his motives, and to observe the stars of the film discuss their parts. Again, much honor is heaped on Tarantino, but the filmmaker is absent here.
"The Babes of 'Hell Ride'" (5:20) interviews the actresses of the picture, looking for a different perspective on the film's quivering sexuality.
"The Guys of 'Hell Ride'" (14:19) steps over to chat up the actors, who truly admire Bishop and his ability to manipulate the icy textures of the screenplay. The blunt, expletive-laden interviews are pretty hilarious to watch, especially from Madsen, who always looks about two hot minutes away from the most satisfying nap of his life.
"The Choppers of 'Hell Ride'" (9:35) introduces the viewer to Justin Kell, the motorcycle consultant on the film, who explains what machinery Bishop worked with during the shoot. The conversation eventually turns to actor Balfour, who overcame his limited ride experience to become quite a pro.
"Michael Madsen's Video Diaries" (9:04) is a montage of BTS footage shot by Madsen and friends during production. Madsen also provides a wandering commentary.
And finally, a Red Band Theatrical Trailer for the film is included on this DVD.
I wouldn't recommend "Hell Ride" to the casual viewer, as the film is far too specific an experience to appeal to the unprepared soul. It's an irascible B-movie throwback with a few great scenes, truckloads of titillation and female objectification, and the most entertainingly bored performance I've seen emerge from Michael Madsen since "Species II." For those tuned into this sort of thing on a regular basis, it's worth the effort to fight Bishop's inconsistent direction and sloppy screenwriting.
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