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More Like Purgatory…for 90 Minutes
by Mel Valentin on Aug 08, 2008
Written, directed, and produced by genre veteran Larry Bishop (Mad Dog Time, Shanks, Chrome and Leather), Hell Ride is an irony-free throwback to the late 60s-early 70s biker flicks. Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. I and II, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), a vocal fan of exploitation cinema, convinced the Weinstein brothers to cough up $3 million for Bishop’s second film as a writer-director (Mad Dog Time was his first). Unfortunately, Hell Ride delivers few of the guilty pleasures that made exploitation flicks so watchable almost forty years ago.
The film's storyline involves rival gangs, the Victors and the aptly named 666s, and an ongoing dispute over territory and money from the usual illegalities (e.g., drugs, prostitution). The leader of the Victors, John Pistolero (Bishop), and his second-in-command, the Gent (Michael Madsen), seem to be fighting a losing battle against the 666s and its leaders, the sadistic Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and the business suit-wearing Deuce (David Carradine). One top of this, Pistolero’s latest recruit, Comanche (Eric Balfour), has a secret and agenda that connects him to Pistolero, the Deuce, and the death of Comanche’s mother, Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones), 32 years earlier. Besides the 666s, Pistolero has to contend with a possible mutiny from the other members of his gang.
Bishop tries to cover up Hell Ride’s spaghetti western-influenced story and themes with languid dialogue scenes (he’s no Tarantino, though), a jumble of unnecessary flashbacks and flash forwards, and genre veterans Dennis Hopper as Eddie “Scratch” Zero, an old associate of Pistolero’s, and David Carradine. Of course, there's also the periodic outbreaks of ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity to remind moviegoers that they’re watching an exploitation flick that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Not surprisingly, Hell Ride’s gender politics are a throwback to a more retrograde time in our social and cultural history (or at least the perception of such). Men are defined through their willingness to engage in violence to settle their differences, their prowess with weapons and, of course, their sexual charisma. Women are defined exclusively by their sexuality, availability, and willingness to subsume their identities to the men they’re sleeping with. They’re also interchangeable and disposable. As in just about any other exploitation flick, betrayal is punishable with violence and death. That often makes Hell Ride difficult, if not disturbing, to sit through, especially during the repeated flashbacks to the murder of Comanche’s mother.
Even if Hell Ride’s gender politics aren’t particularly concerning, the movie offers only the cheapest of thrills, thrills Bishop doles out sporadically. From the results onscreen, it’s obvious Bishop didn’t have the resources to stage the action scenes properly. Most of the action scenes go by too fast and not a lot happens in them, including the tension- and suspense-free confrontation between the Victors and the 666s that functions as Hell Ride’s climax and the final, secret-revealing denouement that even the least attentive moviegoer will figure immediately.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Aug 08, 2008