We open on an empty desert road. Two drivers rev their engines at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. The only witness: a tortoise. The light changes: vroom! The race is depicted through a dizzying number of cuts, extreme angles and lens distortion. One of the drivers punches the nitrous button and the camera swoops through the engine and retreats from a wall of flame which then becomes a human eye which then becomes the end of the car’s muffler as the camera pulls out from it. This riff on “X-treme” action filmmaking cranked up to 11 is interrupted by a man on a motorcycle who leaves the two drivers in the dust. He zooms past a street sign, which spins like a thaumatrope, spelling out the words, “CARS SUCK.”
This is one of two times Joseph Kahn’s Torque directly calls out its better-known half-sibling1, the other being when lead white dude Ford (Martin Henderson) echoes Vin Diesel’s classic line, “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time.” His girlfriend’s response? “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
What is the Fast & Furious franchise? What are its defining characteristics? Some are obvious: cars, crime (at least in the beginning), thong-clad babes shot against a drag race backdrop. In the trailer for the upcoming The Fate of the Furious, I believe the word “family” is used more often than the word “the,” so that’s clearly a major part of what makes the series tick. However, there’s another element that isn’t commented on as often, perhaps because it’s overshadowed by the franchise’s more tangible charms, and that’s earnestness. Everything in these films, from the bonkers vehicular warfare to the bromantic melodrama, is presented without a hint of irony. A movie could feature all of the franchise’s various tropes, but it would not be a Fast & Furious movie if it ever winked at the camera or made fun of itself.2
That said, these movies are silly, and there’s nothing wrong with other movies giving them a satirical noogie now and then. Enter: Torque. I didn’t see this film when it came out. In fact, I think I actively avoided it. I wasn’t a fan of the early Fast & Furious films, and this, coming out a year after the godawful 2 Fast 2 Furious, just looked like a ripoff of a franchise that was itself a ripoff of Point Break. No thank you.
And Torque really is a ripoff! But also not. It’s a spoof! But also not. Torque is just Torque: weird, over-the-top, and extremely aware of itself. Nowadays, Joseph Kahn is probably best known for his music videos, as well as his hilariously “dark and gritty” fan film, “Power/Rangers.” His latest feature, Detention, is a teen comedy featuring a masked killer, musical numbers, and a time-traveling bear. The dude’s got an interesting, pop-culture-shoved-in-a-blender aesthetic, and with Torque he applied it to that ever so popular film genre: “extreme motorsports crime.”
To the film’s credit, it doesn’t lean on The Fast and the Furious for its story. Ford isn’t an outsider cop trying to infiltrate a gang, but an insider in the motorcycle racing underground. He’s been hiding out in Thailand because he took and hid a couple of meth-filled motorcycles from a racist, white trash motorcycle gang called The Hellions (like ya do), but now he’s back and looking to “make things right.” Right with the Hellions, right with the Feds, and right with his girlfriend, Shane (Monet Mazur). His motivation for hiding the bikes in the first place is hazy, but whatever. That’s just back story and you can’t live your life a quarter-mile at a time while also living in the past.
Poor Ford. He’s got the mulleted Hellions after him. He’s got oddly hipsterish FBI agents after him (Adam Scott!), thinking he’s a drug dealer. Then, because trouble just drips from Ford wherever he goes, he’s got Trey Wallace after him. Trey is the leader of an Englewood-based gang called the Ravagers, and his main defining characteristic is that he is played by Ice Cube. He likes to threaten people with being fed to his dog.3
To be honest there’s a bit too much going on in Torque; a few too many moving parts for what could be a lean, mean little genre film… but that’s sort of the point. The film is over the top in almost every way possible. It didn’t have the budget to be as grand in scale as the later Fast films, but it makes up for that in flash and audacity.
A narrative digression where the villains beat up a weekend warrior played by Dane Cook? Sure! Why not?
How about a scene where Shane has a hilarious motorcycle jousting match/duel with the baddie’s girlfriend? Yeah! And the baddie’s girlfriend is played by Jaime Pressly, who spends almost all of her screen time licking her lips? Heck yeah!
A motorcycle chase across the top of a moving train that then transitions into inside the train? You had me at hello.
Oh! Oh! A motorcycle that is so fast that its shockwave shatters car windows?
This movie. It’s a fun one. It can’t help but pale in comparison to what the Fast & Furious franchise would later become, but it’s much more enjoyable than the early films that inspired it. I feel like in an ideal world Torque would have enjoyed the same franchise fate as its big brother, and become yin to its yang. An anarchic, raunchier, and self-reflexive counterpoint to the more earnest and sweet-natured adventures of Dom and family. Bugs Bunny to Fast’s Mickey Mouse.
If nothing else, the Torque franchise would have gone to outer space already.
- They are related, after all. Torque and The Fast and the Furious share a producer in Neal H. Moritz.
- Given their penchant for bombastic action and total lack of irony, I would love for the Wachowskis to make a Fast & Furious movie.
- The dog is named Dojo and he looks to be a very good dog who wouldn’t eat anyone unless they really, really deserved it.