Torque is an important movie in the oeuvre of Fred Topel, because it was the first movie where I declared “There won’t be a faster, more furious movie this year.” Ten years later, I keep saying it every time there’s a Fast and the Furious or movie with one of those actors or really anything with a car that’s worthy. Torque was the first one. I was in on the joke that they were doing The Fast and the Furious on motorcycles, though I don’t think producer Neal Moritz intended to parody himself. I mean, you all saw that the spinning street signs said “Cars suck,” right? Right?
There have been faster, more furious movies since Torque but I don’t think any of them came out in 2004. I stand by that review, even though it no longer exists online. This review probably won’t be as good as that one, but now that the film is finally available on Blu-ray, I can re-evaluate the fastest, most furious movie of 2004. William Bibbiani covered the proper ten year anniversary of Torque, so I will try to cover different ground, although we generally agree Torque is a film full of creativity and irreverence, fighting uphill against a studio machine that really just wanted it to be more like that other thing that was successful.
The plot, if you must know such things, is that Ford (Martin Henderson) returns to town to make things right with Shane (Monet Mazur). Ford has to prove that Henry (Matt Schulze) was smuggling crystal meth in motorcycles, while meanwhile Henry frames Ford for killing Trey (Ice Cube)’s brother Junior (Fredro Starr). Poor Mazur is saddled with a lot of the exposition about how the feds raided her shop after Ford left town and blah blah blah. Federal agents McPherson (Adam Scott) and Henderson (Justina Machado) are on their tail.
Perhaps the problem society had with Torque was that it wasn’t about family like The Fast and the Furious is. There had only been 2 Fast 2 Furious by the time Torque was made so perhaps they hadn’t zeroed in on the winning formula. The plot of Torque is knowingly, winkingly, just there to set up cool motorcycle chases. It does unfortunately take 31 minutes out of an 80 minute (sans credits) movie to set up – 33 if you count when Ford comes up with his plan to clear his name – but Torque knows this is formula so it has fun with those moments. Dalton (Jay Hernandez) reiterates Ford’s plan to pin the meth on Henry, but Val (Will Yun Lee) is sure to make fun of him for dumbing it down to us. I still love the gag about the agents paying for gas.
The set pieces are pretty magnificent. William did a great in-depth analysis of the Monet Mazur/Jaime Pressly bike fight, but a chase through a palm tree forest is stunning. A train chase, which somehow we’re so spoiled we take for granted now, is achieved via considerable visual effects but uses the train itself in innovative ways that should be applauded. In a freeway chase, the camera passes through three lanes of traffic and inside two vehicles. All of the weapons transfers are creative and impressive, when Ford grabs guns on the run, sometimes via complex Rube Goldberg chains of events. Even in a bar fight, a fighter smashes a beer bottle and grabs another one out of his victim’s hand, keeping the Budweiser logo in frame.
The finale is shot in what I would call Torquevision, and if they did not call it Torquevision on the set and in post-production, then shame on them. It looks like a largely computer generated reality but it’s supposed to be a heightened sensory experience. I can attest that Flower, Wilshire and 3rd Street are not in the same block in real life.
They all wear helmets, at least until the third act when things get crazy, but for endorsing helmets at all they are good role models. They also have conversations going 100 mph over the roar of their engines, so perhaps their helmets were mic’ed. Again, we shouldn’t care about the logic of inter-motorcycle communication, because it’s awesome.
Torque was so timely that parts of it may be dated now. A tourist (Dane Cook) talks about emailing photos to everyone on his buddy list. Remember AOL and pre-social media travelogues? I never heard any of the songs on this soundtrack ever again, but the score is good. Trey calls out a “whoot whoot” in a bar fight. Was that a thing? The film’s visual language is not dated at all. Torque had its finger on the pulse (the throttle?) of the then current model, spoofing the NOS shots from Fast and the Furious and doing its own thing focusing on the chains of the bikes. It also kept the camera fluid and adaptable to the action, without getting chaotic and unintelligible like some of the Marvel and Hasbro blockbusters are now.
There’s still a few shots in the first motorcycle rally at 11:30 into the film with spots on the lens, which I guess they didn’t even fix in post for the theatrical release. I checked, those spots were on the DVD too. Those shots must eat at Joseph Kahn at night, but I like those tangible artifacts. Something was on the lens that day and it still exists in the modern format 10 years later. Overall we’re lucky to see Torque looking so good with only a few nitpicks. The picture remains sharp and bright and any seams showing are authentic to the original format of the film.
All the bonus features from the DVD are included again, and it’s fun to hear Kahn talk about the film, twice. His track with the filmmakers is more technical, and even the simplest scene has interesting technical considerations, but the track with the actors also reveals that Kahn’s proposed ‘80s music soundtrack was too expensive. The animatics and music video are presented in standard definition but are carried over from the DVD.
There won’t be a faster, more furious Blu-ray in 2004 than Torque. I’m going to keep saying it, as I mean it with love and affection for what has become one of the defining motifs of modern action cinema. Torque got what was so fast and furious about these movies and that’s why it spoke to me then, and still speaks to me now.