People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
  DVD Review: Hell Ride

Loyal readers may have noticed I’ve been handing out A grades like Halloween candy here lately. While I’d argue that this is because I’ve been reviewing some pretty damn fine movies of late (I can’t help it if Let the Right One In, Kung Fu Panda and Mongol all rule), I do sometimes worry that maybe I’m getting soft. So it’s with great excitement that I go into this review for Larry Bishop’s Hell Ride, easily the worst movie I’ve reviewed for this blog, and one of the most ridiculously awful movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

I mentioned Bishop months ago in my review for In Bruges (a charming, if unspectacular little British gangster film), where I discussed his 1996 film Mad Dog Time as the worst of the wannabe-Tarantino gangster movies of the ‘90s. It’s an absolutely fascinatingly terrible movie, as well as the most self-indulgent piece of filmmaking I’ve ever witnessed. In that film, writer/director/producer Larry Bishop (son of Joey Bishop) casts himself as a super-badass hitman who wears sunglasses and gloves indoors and spends half his scenes with his tongue down Angie Everhart’s throat. It’s what I would have done if I’d been allowed to make a gangster movie when I was 16 or 17: cast myself as the coolest guy on earth and spend the movie making out with a supermodel. It’s beyond ridiculous, and just one of the many, many reasons Mad Dog Time is one of the worst movies ever made.

But I’m not here to talk about Mad Dog Time, I’m here to talk about Hell Ride, Bishop’s follow-up. (I try not to read into the fact that it was 12 years between Bishop’s directorial efforts, but it’s hard.) It’s a biker flick about a gang called the Victors, led by the enigmatic Pistolero (Bishop) as he seeks vengeance for his girl who was murdered 32 years earlier. Following him are his right-hand man, The Gent (Michael Madsen, veering between genuinely fun and flat-out bizarre) and the young upstart Comanche (Eric Balfour). The “bad” gang, the Six Six Sixers, are headed by Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones, doing the most bizarre maybe-accent I’ve seen since Kevin Costner’s opening scenes in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and The Deuce (David Carradine). The movie basically follows these characters as they arrange meetings at dusty desert bars, then double-cross each other and set up rival gang members for brutal murders. I’ve watched this movie twice now (once with the commentary), and I’ll be damned if I know what the actual point of Hell Ride is.

When it comes to genre movies like Hell Ride, all I’m looking for is some good times. The red-band trailer was very promising; it looked like a fun, ultraviolent biker flick, kind of like a low-rent Kill Bill for biker movies instead of martial arts films. And really, I don’t think that would have been all that hard to pull off. Instead, Bishop (who, again, wrote, produced, directed and stars) tries to get all existential and arty with his biker movie, which would be a tricky enough proposition for a legitimately talented filmmaker, but Bishop is not one of those. To call Hell Ride a mess would insult messes.

The cast of Hell Ride seems to be having fun, but not in the way that infects the viewer. Instead it gave me the impression that nobody really cared that much about whether anything they were saying or doing made sense; it just gives the whole movie a sloppy, slapped-together feel (which is particularly odd considering Bishop says in the commentary that the initial draft of the script took the form of a 400-page novel; god knows what was in that).

All I wanted out of Hell Ride was a fun, violent biker movie that didn’t take itself too seriously. Hell Ride is violent, but misses everywhere else. Kill Bill’s one of my favourite movies, and I know Bishop’s not a fraction of the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is, and there was zero chance Hell Ride would be anywhere near as good, but at the very least I was hoping he’d go for a similar spirit of almost cartoony fun and action of Volume 1. Instead, Bishop tries to get all existential and disappears up his own ass. I like Sartre and Kant as much as the next would-be intellectual, but I thought this was supposed to be a biker movie, not your graduate thesis on the nature of nothingness.

Ultimately Hell Ride is a mess, but a pretty fascinating one if you're a fan of spectacularly bad movies. It's no Southland Tales (one of the most compellingly insane cinematic failures of the past decade; I’ll be writing about it some time soon, hopefully), but it's pretty crazy. But if you're looking for just a fun, silly, violent biker movie, look elsewhere. “If the whole world feels like I let them down with Hell Ride, it wouldn’t mean anything to me unless Quentin [Tarantino] said so,” Bishop says in one of the DVD extras. Well dude, I hope QT liked it, because speaking for the rest of us, I can tell you that your movie sucks.



For the first half-hour or so watching Hell Ride, I couldn’t wait to watch it with the commentary from Bishop and director of photography Scott Kevan. I had no idea how seriously I was supposed to be taking this thoroughly ridiculous movie. But then about 10 to 15 minutes later, I just stopped caring. Unfortunately Bishop seems to think he was making some sort of intellectual masterpiece, and all the stuff I was laughing at was, apparently, meant to be taken seriously. He discusses the genesis of Hell Ride, which is more interesting than the movie itself – Bishop starred in a bunch of old biker movies in the ‘60s, and Quentin Tarantino, trash-cinema aficionado that he is, is a fan of them. He met Bishop (and cast him in Kill Bill Vol. 2 as Budd’s boss at the strip club; that scene alone, including Bishop’s hilarious performance in it, are better than this entire movie) and told him it was his destiny to make the ultimate biker movie (thus earning him an executive producer credit, evidently). Bishop apparently took this far too literally (a point that, to be fair, he admits himself) and became obsessed with the notion, and penned the aforementioned 400-page novel that would become the Hell Ride script.

Bishop himself seems like an amiable enough guy, though he's pretty full of himself, and it's unfortunately clear how much he idolizes Tarantino, and he name-drops him like crazy. (A fun drinking game would be to get a bunch of friends together and watch the entire Hell Ride DVD – the main film with the commentary and then all the featurettes – and take a drink every time he mentions Tarantino. I guarantee you will all be totally hammered before the halfway mark.)

There’s a handful of featurettes on the making of the film and the cast, all pretty standard stuff, and if you were to watch them first, I’d imagine they’d create the illusion that this movie is all the things it should have been, but isn’t. The best thing on the Hell Ride DVD is the trailer, the broken promise for the ultimate fun, trashy biker movie that, sadly, still remains unmade.

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