Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
A misguided attempt at cinematic badassery produces bad dialogue and unconvincing characters.
The characters in Hell Ride talk often about their three loves in life: Bikes, Beer, and Booty. This also pretty much describes Larry Bishop’s film, and you can also add Bullets as well. Its been awhile since we’ve seen a good ole fashioned biker film, and it’s obvious that Bishop and his cohorts have some kind of affinity for the genre. But Hell Ride, while it features Dennis Hopper as Eddie Zero, the former president of a biker gang, is no Easy Rider but more of a biker film done Tarantino style. At only 85 minutes, it says what it has to say and rides off into the sunset.
Writer/Director Bishop also stars as Pistolero, the current president of the Victors, the gang that the film considers the “good” guys. His posse is made up of basically two guys, the Gent (Michael Madsen) and Comanche (Eric Balfour). The rival gang, known ominously as the 666ers is lead by the sleazy Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and their elder statesman the Deuce (David Carradine). These rivals go way back to 1976, when the Deuce did something awful to a lady friend of Pistolero’s and now it’s revenge time.
I’ve basically described the plot of Hell Ride in one small paragraph, but the relationship between each of the characters and their history is slowly revealed throughout the film. What isn’t slowly revealed is the violence, which comes early and often, everything from guns to arrows to sharp wires that are implemented for beheadings are grist for the films violent mill, as Hell Ride doesn’t shy away from its genre’s roots. The film looks and feels much like a 60s flick, there’s even an acid trip scene thrown in for good measure.
Bishop’s previous film, the awful Mad Dog Time, was an homage to mobster films that was so poorly conceived that it ended up on many ten worst lists including mine. Hell Ride is certainly a better film, but I’m quite certain how much better it really is. Does it deliver what it promises, Bikers, Beer, and Booty? For the most part yes but there’s something unauthentic about it. I think the problem starts with Bishop as the lead, the tough and grizzled Pistolero. Bishop seems to be channeling Marlon Brando at times; this is most likely on purpose, as it harkens back to Brando’s The Wild One but it mostly comes across as play acting. No matter how dirty and grimy Bishop looks, no matter how often he speaks with a voice that as a critic friend of mine describes as “someone who swallowed a bunch of granola,” Bishop just comes across as what he is: a middle-aged white guy from Hollywood whose trying desperately to be badass. Madsen, who has pretty much been playing variations of the same character since Reservoir Dogs is nevertheless always interesting to watch, and I’m not quite sure why.
Another issue is Bishop’s dialogue as he seems obsessed with repeating the same word several times in different ways until we laugh at its unusual cadence. Here’s an example:
Pistolero to the Gent: Meet me at six on route sixty-six, can you remember that?
The Gent: You gonna tell me six more times?
Pistolero: A child of six could remember that.
This way of talking is repeated several times in the film and Bishop did the same thing in Mad Dog Time. David Mamet has nothing to be afraid of as Bishop’s quirky style doesn’t seem to exist for any reason other than to sound odd or funny. However it begins to get annoyingly self-conscious after a while. Are these characters really clever enough to actually talk like this?
With his two films so far, Bishop has shown that he’s not afraid to at least have a style and carry it through but it’s that very style that prevents Hell Ride from ever feeling authentic. Bishop wants badly to contribute to a genre that he loves while at the same time never letting the audience forget that he’s a wise-ass filmmaker who’s smarter than we are. Bishop’s Hollywood roots go way back, and he can’t seem to shake them, maybe he doesn’t even want to. Unfortunately as far as badass bikers go, you could probably find more convincing characters in a Harley-Davidson café than in Hell Ride.