"That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Turns out that Neal H. Moritz really liked raking in millions and millions and millions of dollars producing The Fast and the Furious. So, he set out to accomplish what any savvy producer would: pretty much the exact same thing. The idea was that Torque would do for motorcycles what The Fast and the Furious did for rice rockets. Hell, the screenplay even reads like someone opened up yet another Fast-'n-Furious sequel in Final Draft and did a search/replace for "car" to turn the whole thing into a biker flick. All Moritz and company needed was the right director.
Wrangling in a deeply reluctant Joseph Kahn to sit in the director's chair is both the saving grace and borderline-tragedy of Torque. I mean, it makes sense on the surface. Kahn was-slash-is an accomplished music video director, someone whose frenetic energy and glossy visual style would be a perfect fit for a shameless knockoff of The Fast and the Furious. Plus, y'know, he was untested in Hollywood, so Kahn would probably work for cheap and be eager to please during his first time up at bat. The only hiccup is that Kahn hated The Fast and the Furious. On one hand, you have a screenplay that's stone-faced serious. In his audio commentary, writer Matt Johnson even says something about how much Torque is like a spaghetti western, likening forgettable white bread lead Martin Henderson to Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name. You have a studio that's salivating over a Fast/Furious Xerox with attitude: something edgy and "in your face". You've heard the expression "let's get busy"...? Well, Torque is a movie that gets biz-zay! Consistently and thoroughly. ...and over here, you have Joseph Kahn feverishly battling it out with the studio, trying to take the piss out of the whole thing.
It's almost not even worth trudging through the whole plot summary deal. Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) ducked over to Thailand after swiping a bunch of motorcycles fat-packed with crystal meth. Henry (Matt Schulze) has waited six months to get his grubby little hands back on his drugs, and he doesn't take any chances when Ford resurfaces on this side of the Pacific. So, yeah, he frames Ford for the murder of Ice Cube's loudmouth kid brother. Not the actual Ice Cube, I mean, but the biker gang high sheriff he plays in Torque. I think we're on the same page here. Anyway, you're lookin' at a bunch of high speed chases, the feds in hot pursuit, a foxy love interest type, and...mmm-hmm. On paper, it's all pretty much what you'd expect. Rather than just try to mindlessly retread The Fast and the Furious' footsteps, though, Kahn takes Torque way the hell off-road. The mission statement is to make pretty much the most gloriously stupid action flick ever and to stick Warner Bros. with the bill. You have what's just about the forest chase on Endor from Return of the Jedi, only instead of
Torque still finds itself caught in this uncomfortable middle ground. It's partially self-parody, yeah, but there's still a whole lot of straightahead The Fast and the Furious-on-bikes bobbing around in here. The Absurd-O-Meter is all over the place: too smirky for the Fast and the Furious crowd but not consistently ridiculous enough for those craving something left-of-center. Martin Henderson aims for the charming rogue type but winds up in some forgettable sub-McConaughey sandtrap instead, and his buddies Jay Hernandez and Will Yun Lee aren't given a chance to make much of an impression. There are so many antagonist-types that none of 'em really stick the landing as well as they should. I'm still a sucker for Adam Scott in hellspawned smarmy jackass mode, and that's exactly what he dishes out here as an FBI agent hunting down Ford, so there's that. The storytelling can be a little clumsy and infodump-y, but if that gets Torque in and out in eightysomething minutes, then I'm onboard. Whatever, though. Even though some of the visual effects work hasn't aged all that well, there's still no shortage of glossy eye candy. It's a spastic, aggressively stylish flick with some jaw-droppingly ambitious stuntwork and more than a few deliberate laughs.
Torque isn't the movie anyone wanted. Warner Bros. hated it. Critics eviscerated the sucker. Audiences generally stayed away. The experience was so miserable that Kahn stepped away from movies altogether for ages, and when he came back the better part of a decade later, he made damned sure that it was on his terms. No one's gonna mistake Torque as some landmark achievement in the cinematic arts or whatever, but sometimes I have a Ridiculous Action Flick itch, and this guilty pleasure knows how to scratch it. Recommended.
There's a really extensive set of DVD-to-Blu-ray comparisons over at Caps-a-holic, but to save you a click, the differences are staggering. That does say a little more about how weak Torque looks on DVD rather than anything about this Blu-ray disc. The movie is showing its age and then some these days, but I'm pretty happy with the way this high-def release has turned out. We're talking about a movie intensely defined by its visuals, after all, and Torque benefits well enough from what Blu-ray has to offer. Even better, its gritty texture has been retained rather than digitally smeared away, and fine object detail can be robust, especially when the camera's closed in tightly.
Some very light speckling does rear its head, along with this nasty beast:
Other stretches are kind of dupe-y and contrasty:
Seeing as how Torque got the digital intermediate treatment ten years ago, though, the smart money says it's always looked that way. It's certainly not the sharpest movie to ever pass through my hands:
...and, yeah, the CGI hasn't aged especially well:
The bitrate of this AVC encode is respectable for such a short movie, what with Torque clocking in at just 84 minutes and all. There's something still a little...digital about the coarse, grainy texture, though I suspect the 2004-era digital intermediate may be to blame there:
There's really only one shot where it's a huge nuisance. It's the sort of thing that can't really be captured in a still image, but Ford's dirt-caked jacket looks wildly unstable around the 49:31 mark:
It comes across as being a few years older than it really is, but the whole digital intermediate thing basically ensures that Torque will never look meaningfully better than this. Pretty good but far from great. Oh, and if you want me to keep droning on about the technical end of things, Torque arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
Torque scores a hell of a lossless soundtrack, delivered here in 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. Every element in the mix is superhumanly clean and clear, easily setting itself apart from anything your musty old DVD could hope to match. Torque's sound design is as spastic as its visuals, so you have bikes, bodies, and bullets violently flinging from speaker to speaker. The throaty growl of all those motorcycle engines keeps the subwoofer snarling, and the LFE reinforces all those punches, kicks, slams, and even the occasional overturned vending machine really well. There's a little edginess to some of the dialogue, and the Jane's Addiction number over the opening credits sounds a bit more dull and rumbly than I would've expected, but otherwise, it's pretty much high praise all around.
You're lookin' at a whole bunch of dubs: French, German, Castilian Spanish, Latino Spanish, and Portuguese. They're a mix of Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps) and stereo (192 kbps), and subtitle streams are riding shotgun in all of those languages as well.
All the goodies from the decade-old DVD have found their way on here. Nothing new, not that you were keeping your fingers crossed for that or anything.
The Final Word
I know, right? This tenth anniversary edition of Torque is going for the low, low price of $9.96 on Amazon as I write this. Who can say no to that? I think we both know the answer is "pretty much everyone", but if you're into the idea of a ridiculous, stylish-as-hell popcorn action flick that skewers the sorts of movies it's cashing in on, you'll probably find Torque worth that ten spot. Recommended.