Larry Bishop’s Hell Ride plays like a childhood fantasy I might have had in the third grade had I known more about boobies and the joy they bring to my basest male desires. As a film, however, it’s terrible. It’s like Bishop set out to honor the bad movie genre by laying a turd so rancid the qualities of those other films shine brightly alongside it. Sitting down to watch Hell Ride a second time after having seen it in theaters and not really knowing what to think about it then, the benefit of time has taught me how awful this debut truly is.
A shallow pretender, Hell Ride wants so badly to show off Sergio Leone style and Quentin Tarantino raunchiness that it plays like a bad parody instead of a competent homage. Like Tarantino’s films, characters speak with overblown dialogue. Unlike Tarantino’s films, the script lacks the color or humor to make it work. Mixing shoddy lines with Leone’s slow-building epic style proves a bad fit, sort of like kids playing cops and robbers on a playground and making up the words as they go along. (“Are you the dirty rascal that robbed the train? If’n ya are, I’m gonna run ya in” – not actual dialogue from the film, just an idea of its stupidity.)
Larry Bishop writes, directs, and stars in this stinker as Pistolero, an aging biker, who thinks more highly of himself than most of the other characters do. Coincidentally, the only characters that do seem to like him are the hundreds of hot women – imagine that, considering he wrote the part for himself – and a pair of paranoid henchmen, played by Michael Madsen and Eric Balfour.
Touching on the sex for just a moment (pun not intended), I will say the film has a lot, and if that’s all you’re looking for, you could do a lot worse. Unfortunately, it undermines the overall integrity, because Larry Bishop looks and acts nothing like an actual biker, only the way a pathetic man going through a midlife crisis assumes a biker would act. I don’t care how many of these films he did in the sixties; his whole look and attitude are off. No way could I suspend my disbelief for one moment to actually buy in to the charade. As one gratuitous sex scene follows another, Bishop delivers lines that are roll-in-sockets bad and tries to pretend he’s a natural at this sort of thing. He is a physically unimposing man with a bad haircut and an exaggerated biker drawl. It truly unhinges whatever else the film has going for it, though I am hard-pressed to identify just what those qualities are.
From the beginning, we learn there is a plot within Pistolero’s own ranks to kill him. There is also the haunting memory of a murdered Native American woman that promises a little mystery to go along with the stupidity. Unfortunately, the mystery takes no longer than ten minutes for the casual viewer to solve.
Noteworthy stars that turn in thankless performances: Vinnie Jones, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, to name a few. All deserve kudos for choking out these lines with a straight face. Of course, whatever credit they’re owed is immediately taken away by the fact they agreed to do the film in the first place. Probably thought, “Hmmm, a chance to work with Tarantino, how bad could it be?”
If you’re begging for punishment, give it a look – all the answer you’ll ever need.
With that said, it at least registers (barely) on the 5-star scale thanks to the women, the orgies, the oil wrestling, and a couple of nice splatter scenes… hey, I’m still a guy.
The film has a lot going on visually. Its black-and-white opening. Character splash pages. Peyote-induced drug simulation. All disbursed through a rich desert landscape of western action and sex-capades, all expertly rendered by director of photography Scott Kevan. It’s an unusually bright film to be so gritty. Even night scenes possess a colorful quality, such as a scene with Bishop, Balfour, and Carradine, in an open motel room. Dimension Extreme does not disappoint with a clean, razor-sharp 2.35:1 transfer… almost too clean to be a Grindhouse film, which is what they were shooting for. (If you were one of the unlucky few to see it in theaters, you know exactly what I’m talking about – feature presentation bumper, shown on 35mm film.)
Two 5.1 Dolby Surround tracks are included on the disc – one English, one French, both terrific. Daniele Luppi’s score has a Robert Rodriguez/south-of-the-border quality that accomplishes what it sets out to do. The choppers roar like thousand-pound kittens ready for action, and dialogue levels are as bold as the rest. No problems hearing character exchanges, gunshots, flying arrows finding a home, or rowdy ladies wrestling in slop. It actually feels like a biker bar, or so I’ve heard.
Red Band Trailer – I love these Grindhouse previews. Even though Hell Ride is the only one included on the disc, it reminds me of the excellent trailers packaged with Planet Terror and Death Proof during their joint theatrical release. Had I not already seen and hated Hell Ride, this would totally make me want to watch.
The Making of Hell Ride – A fluffy 10-minute look at the genesis of the project… and about as close as we get to Tarantino’s involvement with the disc. Miss.
The Babes of Hell Ride – Also fluff. Also 10 minutes. But it’s certainly not painful giving these ladies another look.
The Guys of Hell Ride – If only viewers had as much fun watching as they did making it, we wouldn’t have any problems. Alas, this featurette reminds us of what might have been.
The Choppers of Hell Ride – A brief look at the cool bikes featured in the film. For anyone with an appreciation of these rides. Nothing groundbreaking, though.
Michael Madsen’s Video Diary – Last of the 10-minute featurettes shows more of the fun this cast had acting out. Shot on a handheld with little-to-no editing, it’s a watch-once piece.
Feature-length commentary by Writer/Director/Producer Larry Bishop and Director of Photography Scott Kevan – The most valuable extra is Bishop and Kevan’s look at the making of the film, including the reasons for some of their experimental visual choices. It’s clear without the commentary what they were going for, especially during the peyote simulation, but it’s always fascinating and worthwhile to get inside the heads of the filmmakers… even a bad one like Bishop. No complaints for Kevan’s work, though.
Hell Ride is quite obviously a Grindhouse film, even though it doesn’t officially wear the banner. While it’s not horribly made, it is, quite simply, horrible. Does this mean Grindhouse is dead and that Tarantino should steer clear of similar projects in the future? Absolutely not! I want to see more bad cinema (hopefully not this kind of bad) and more cool trailers for, let’s say, the next 50 years. It’s a clever concept that doesn’t play well to general audiences, but I like it, and one bad movie is not going to leave me clamoring for quits. If you manage to connect with Hell Ride, take comfort. The disc includes a decent supply of bonus materials, and a characteristically excellent A/V presentation from Dimension Extreme.
12/13/2008 @ 6:20 am
Wow, don’t pull any punches. How bad does a movie have to be for it’s strongest ratings to be video and audio quality? I think I enjoyed your review more than I would enjoy the actual movie. Tarantino is really a hit or a miss with me. I either love his work or hate it, there’s been no in-between. I respect that.
12/13/2008 @ 3:33 pm
I would’ve watched it just because it is a Tarantino film so thank you for saving me 2 hours of my life I could’ve otherwise never gotten back 🙂
12/22/2008 @ 6:23 pm
Tarantino presents crap most of the time. With few exceptions, Resevoir Dogs and supposedly Kill Bill, he does not have the eye for much of anything. Even his tour de force Pulp Fiction was moderate at best. I think deep down he knows it that is why he has turned to this grindhouse-type movie making. He knows he makes crap most of the time so now he is telling everyone he is doing it on purpose.
I try to stay away from just about everything that has his name on it. I may miss an okay one every now and then, but the money in my pocket is worth the trade off.
Anyway, I’d say this review is more than enough to make me stay away.