Quentin Tarantino asked Larry Bishop to create a biker movie like the ones the latter had acted in nearly 40 years ago. The resulting slavish dead-genre tribute, “Hell Ride,” is perhaps most uncanny in reproducing the boredom most of its original inspirations exuded. This substance-free exercise in retro-cool ‘tude, targeting those buffs and hipsters who ponied up for the far more enjoyable “Grindhouse,” grossed just over $100,000 from 82 theaters in its opening weekend. OK ancillary returns should follow.
On a drive-in screen circa 1972, with beer, weed and necking to distract from the tedious dialogue, this could have been hazily perceived as a trangressive good time. Robbed of such external ambience, however, one faces the facts: There’s precious little action in “Hell Ride,” even less plot, and a whole lot of tougher-than-thou posturing from aging thesps who really don’t benefit from coasting on their bad-boy iconic stature.
Bishop’s feature comes off less as a third giddy “Grindhouse” panel than as an homage to “Kill Bill Vol. 2’s” most ploddingly quasi-mythic passages, as well as many, many dull biker pics (as opposed to those few memorable ones, including such vigorous obscurities as “Satan’s Sadists” and “She Devils on Wheels”).
Bishop himself — who stole several such vintage chestnuts, notably “Angel Unchained” and Richard Rush’s above-average “The Savage Seven” — plays Pistolero, president of the Victors. Thirty-two years ago, Pistolero’s Native American honey Cherokee (Julia Jones) was beaten, stabbed and burned alive by a rival gang over purloined drug-trade money. Now those 666ers are back, announcing their re-entrance by meting out identical death to one lesser Victor.
It isn’t long before veteran bad hombres the Deuce (David Carradine) and Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) show up, eager to find keys unlocking a hidden safe deposit box presumably containing major loot. Pistolero, wiseguy the Gent (Michael Madsen) and lanky, testy Sonny, aka Comanche (Eric Balfour) — perhaps Cherokee’s lost only child — battle back, with an occasional assist from the long-presumed-dead Eddie Zero (Dennis Hopper).
All this sounds like a surefire recipe for knowing, trashy fun, but something got burnt in the oven.
Myriad killings, a few fights and fewer motorcycle stunts (most happening to characters too undefined for their fates to matter) are listlessly staged. When characters aren’t riding or glowering at each other at gunpoint, they’re chasing and getting the “third B” (after bikes and beer, booty) — this being the kind of fantasy universe in which old guys are surrounded by under-25 silicone-enhanced stripper types who beg for it all the time.
Screenplay’s acres of pseudo-hip tough-speak run the gamut from groaningly unfunny (“If our beer doesn’t kill you, it’ll sure make you piss stronger!”) to groaningly portentous (“Hell’s gonna get a helluva lot worse from now on!”). Another buzzkill is the running white-guy appropriation of all things superficially “Indian” as badge of ultimate coolness.
Thesps (even toplining helmer, who’s a strapping 60 years old) have nothing to work with, though one hopes they had fun riding about the desert. Prior scenarist of two quirky, little-seen 1996 features (Denis Leary vehicle “Underworld” and cameo-studded “Mad Dog Time,” which he also directed), Bishop assembles a good-looking and sounding package. Too bad there’s so little inside.
Sure to outride “Hell” is its soundtrack. Between Daniele Luppi’s delightful original score and various old/new artist cuts (by Les Baxter, Mitch Ryder, Roberto Rodriguez, etc.), it wittily encompasses ‘60s/’70s genre sounds from acid rock to spaghetti Western to lounge schlock and more.