Saturday, August 9, 2008
Hell Ride feels like something of a comeback project fro Bishop. The son of Rat Packer comedian Joey Bishop and an actor in such grindhouse biker flicks as Chrome and Hot Leather and The Savage Seven, Bishop has pretty much been off the screen for more than a decade. And what better way to be ushered back into the spotlight than to have hipster Quentin Tarantino - an apparent fan of Bishop's work in the 60s - produced a project that Bishop would write, direct and star in, a film that would harken back to the cool biker films of the past with tough-talking guys, hot babes, and gritty violence.
Okay that's not a bad idea. Grindhouse was fun, and the recent Wild Hogs really didn't cut it as an homage to B-movie biker films despite its quartet of middle aged stars hitting the road on Harleys. And Hell Ride boasts not only B-movie vet Bishop but the ever cool badass Michael Madsen, original Easy Rider Dennis Hopper, Brit footballer Vinnie Jones, Bill himself David Carradine, and a never ending stream of busty beauties. So why isn't Hell Ride more of a joy ride? I think the main problem is that we're not sure of Bishop's tone and we fear that he's taking himself way more serious than he should.
Michael Madsen and Larry Bishop (Dimension Extreme)
Bishop plays Pistolero, a renegade biker caught in a cycle of violence in which you are not sure who's getting revenge on who and for what. But it all seems to harken back to something that happen back in the 70s and involved the murder of a beauty named Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones). Pistolero is joined by a man known only as The Gent (Madsen) and by a young newcomer they dub Comanche (Eric Balfour). Hunting them down with brutal ruthlessness is a gang led by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). There's a lot of bloody throat slittings, gunplay, and even crossbows and arrows. Interrupting the violence is a lot of groping of crotches and breasts, gratuitous ass shots, and women falling all over themselves to bed the three leading men. The women here serve up a wet dream fantasy and they talk dirty too.
There's always a danger when paying homage to a genre of bad films that you are merely making a bad film. Where does the real bad end and the spoof bad begin? In Hell Ride , Bishop tries so hard to write tough bad dialogue that he makes his pain ours. Not only does it try too hard to lay on the testosterone but it tries to be philosophical and pretentious as well. This is wannabe Tarantino dialogue. Grindhouse pulled off this tricky task of writing lines that could be cheesy homage and still reveal a cleverness on the part of the screenwriter. But Bishop directs himself and all the actors to deliver the lines with such weighty, measured reads that any shot at humor gets lost. Occasionally there's a line that hits the mark as when The Gent clears out a room of bad guys in seconds leaving nothing for his buddies to do but watch. He apologizes by explaining, "Sorry my finger got stuck." To which Pistolero snaps, "Next time share." That's fun. But then an overworked and excessive exchange between Pistolero and Nada overstays its welcome as it tries to see how many ways you can use "fire" in a sexually provocative manner. Again, the problem is that Bishop plays it straight and bland, there's no knowing sense of irony or self-parody. Bishop seems to believe that he IS the baddest dude on the planet and any woman would fall panting at his feet.
Michael Madsen adding to his tough guy gallery (Dimension Extreme)
In the dry, dusty landscapes, Bishop the director tries to pay homage to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns but he has none of Leone's witty sense of framing and camera movement. He also tries to invoke the Leone spirit with an Ennio Morricone-style harmonica and guitar. But Bishop doesn't invoke Leone's memory in any clever or satisfying way. Nor does he endow the film with any visual flair. The images are gritty and grainy and the blood flows freely but without any defining panache - it's neither a John Woo bullet ballet nor a tense showdown a la Leone. Bishop and company do a lot of posing for the camera - striking iconic stances against a dusty landscape - but not much acting.
Hell Ride (rated R for strong violence, sexual content including graphic nudity and dialogue, language and drug use) has its moments of pleasure. There's a pricelessly silly bit with Madsen sitting in a tree and blowing in his beer bottle and plainly stating, "Look, I'm an owl." God I love Michael Madsen! But overall, this drawn out and self-consciously pretentious homage to B-movie biker films falls flat. But Bishop - who must be around 60 - doesn't look too bad, and maybe if he handed over the directing and/or the writing to someone else, his acting career might get something of a second wind. But if he continues to maintain this level of control he'll just deliver another hollow vanity project.
Companion viewing: The Wild Angels, Easy Rider, Grindhouse