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There are few true bikers. There are only a few more people who know real bikers. No, you aren’t one of them. If you were, you wouldn’t be sitting in front of a computer reading this review. You’d be too busy removing glass from your scalp from the beer bottle a guy broke over your head just before you beat the crap out of him and stole his wallet and his girlfriend. The biker subculture can only be inhabited by those committed enough to spend countless hours traveling from small town to small town through endless miles of mountains and deserts listening to nothing more than the throaty rumble of a V-twin engine. Larry Bishop, son of Rat Pack comedian Joey Bishop, is a rare breed of man who has actually lived in that world and also makes movies about it. Hell Ride is his homage to the legendary biker movies of the sixties and seventies that he was a part of.
Hollywood has long romanticized the biker life. It started with early stylistic movies in the fifties, like Wild One, with Marlon Brando, and Teenage Devil Dolls. It has continued on through the irresistable camaraderie and wanderlust of cult hits like Easy Rider, The Born Losers, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and, more recently, Wild Hogs. To their credit, many biker films emphasize unpleasant social issues like discrimination, addiction and the constant in-fighting that goes on in motorcycle groups to help determine the hierarchy of the pack. So few films capture the subtleties necessary to show biker clubs as coherent organizations rather than chaotic gangs ruled by nothing more than anarchy and the desire to party their brains out. Sure, Hell Ride has it’s share of that, as well, but it’s irrevocably interwoven with honor, deceit, loyalty and bitter betrayal.
The movie begins with a confusing dream-like sequence with a beautiful Native-American woman speaking to the camera. It then transitions to black and white and shows the main character, Pistolero (Larry Bishop), lying in the middle of a turnout on a dusty highway with an arrow in his gut. A tall, seductive woman, Nada (Leonor Varela), approaches, offers him a shot of whiskey from a hip flask before kneeling on top of him to remove the shaft. Flashback to color and a scene showing a young boy playing outside of a desert motel while inside the Native-American woman from the opening scene has her throat cut. The boy witnesses the murder and rides away on his bicycle as the woman is doused in gasoline and set on fire. Return back to modern day where an older man, named St. Louis, a member of The Victors motorcycle club, receives the same treatment. The opening sequences finally settle on a burial in a barren desert where The Victors, led by their Pres, Pistolero, lay their slain brother to rest… along with his jacket and a dozen half empty bottles of beer. The two murders depicted become the impetus and mystery around which the entire movie is built. The earlier murder, and the young witness, providing a lifelong puzzle and the latter providing the link to the enigmatic perpetrator of both crimes.
The three senior members of The Victors, Pistolero, The Gent (Michael Madsen) and Comanche (Alex Balfour) go on a quest to exact vengeance on their rival club, The Six, Six, Sixers, led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). The quest takes them from one hangout to another, mostly dusty bars and ramshackle houses, and eventually leads them to older members of both gangs, played by none other than Dennis Hopper and David Carradine, who may be the only ones to unravel it all. The movie loses track of the storyline a few times to show a little violence, a lot of flesh and spew out enough obscenities to make even a seasoned sailor cover his ears. It is definitely not meant for the young or faint of heart. However, none of it feels the least bit gratuitous when placed in the world Larry Bishop successfully creates. Larry, strangely enough, somehow seems to obsess on random dialogue that is intentionally “Tarantino-esque” in it’s use of large words, like nihilist and vitreolic, from characters that don’t show any other signs of even being remotely literate. Unlike the Coen brothers chronic use of elevated vocabulary in simple-minded characters it just tends to catch the viewer completely off guard.
Hell Ride, in many respects, is a showcase of male hedonism at it’s pinnacle. It is, as Michael Madsen’s character puts it, “faithful to the three Bs… bikes, beer and booty.” At times it’s like having pure testosterone injected straight into your eyeballs. Still, details like the 1% patches identifying those clubs participating in illegal activities and the incredible parade of perfectly restored classic motorcycles turn Hell Ride into a genre-specific masterpiece that has cult classic written on almost every frame.
On the DVD watch out for several “making of” featurettes, including a video diary shot by, and about, Michael Madsen, as well as small featurettes highlighting the two most enjoyable elements, the bikes and the babes. Grab a beer, put on your favorite leather jacket and hop on because Hell Ride will definitely get you there and back.
Larry Bishop (director) / Larry Bishop (screenplay)
CAST: Larry Bishop … Pistolero
Michael Madsen … The Gent
Eric Balfour … Comanche / Bix
Vinnie Jones … Billy Wings
Leonor Varela … Nada
Michael Beach … Goody Two-Shoes
Laura Cayouette … Dani
Julia Jones … Cherokee Kisum
Francesco Quinn … Machete
Cassandra Hepburn … Maria