The Fast and the Furious was one of the biggest success stories of 2001, a normal summer actioner that skyrocketed at the box office and became a surprise hit on the spot. I believe the film was so successful because the car chases and races took viewers to a whole new level, putting them in the places of the characters and allowing them to experience what it would be like to see the world go by in a blur from the driver's seat. Unfortunately, Biker Boyz does the exact opposite.
Director Reggie Rock Bythewood takes an intriguing story, a study of California's underground motorcycle subculture, and turns it into an unspectacular mess. The races have no spark, the dialogue is tired, and the characters are only present to fulfill the duties of one cliche or another. In short, Biker Boyz comes across as an average, bargain-priced action flick -- and even more of a disappointment considering how much wasted potential the story held.
By day, they're average people, just like you and me. Lawyers, doctors, and people who hold down respectable careers. At night, though, they transform, and that stock broker you talked with over lunch is now a hardcore motorcyclist. This is the basic premise behind Biker Boyz, and although it sounds appealing, beware: it gets worse as it goes along. Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) is known as the "King of Cali," the baddest of the bad and a rider whose crown has been challenged several times but never taken away.
However, Kid (Derek Luke), Smoke's latest competition, just might have what it takes to size up to the King. Although Kid's a racer who has plenty of skill on his bike, he lacks enough smarts to truly realize his talents. After Kid's dad is killed in a race, Kid inhibits his desire to lash out against Smoke. Instead, he vows to avenge his father's death by taking on the King of Cali himself -- and does so by starting up his own club, the Biker Boyz, and establishing a reputation among fellow racers. Still, it's going to take a lot more than a couple of wins and a little determination for Kid to think he can take on Smoke and pull through in the end.
What made The Fast and the Furious, as well as its recent sequel, such a success was the intensity of the car scenes. Filmmakers were so concerned about offering the audience a great show, they did everything except give moviegoers their own cars to race around in during the screening. Biker Boyz wants to convey the thrills of a NASCAR race to the masses, with cycles substituting for stock cars, but it isn't as much fun when the people around you are as bummed out as you are about going to this movie instead of to an actual race.
I didn't think it was possible to take the fun out of races, no matter how cliched the characters are off the track, but Biker Boyz proves me wrong, showing that the lives of the those in the midst of a cycle showdown are just as dull as they are while eating lunch. The racing scenes feel like a behind-the-scene documentary version, presenting these potentially exciting moments in their basic, unimaginative, and sparkless forms. There's no build-up to these scenes either, as Bythewood prefers to spring unexciting action sequences upon the audience with scarcely any warning, thus taking away the suspense of whether or not the characters will live through, let alone win, the next race.
I appreciate how Bythewood developed the characters as just average folk who race as a hobby yet live by a certain honor system, but he could have picked a more exciting group than this one to turn the spotlight on. Laurence Fishburne's performance emerges as larger than life and lends a few leadership qualities to the role of Smoke, thereby justifying his place at the top of the marquee. But the man who was once Cowboy Curtis proves to be among the few actors who display life, chemistry, and charisma with their roles.
Derek Luke, who displayed true talent with his great performance in Antwone Fisher, fails miserably in making Kid stand out as a character we can truly get to know and root for; he acts so cocky at times, don't be surprised if you find yourself hoping he'll lose by the third act.
Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou (I would be surprised to see him doing material like this if I hadn't seen Deep Rising), and Larenz Tate play the nameless, easily forgettable members of Smoke's crew; Brendan Fehr is personality-free as Kid's partner and best friend; and with this and Joe Dirt under his belt, Kid Rock's future in movies is somewhat unclear. As small as their parts were, I did like Megan Good as Kid's girlfriend (who seems more intelligent than to be merely "arm candy"-- even though this film doesn't show it) and Vanessa Bell Calloway as Kid's concerned mom. Obviously, Biker Boyz is not the movie to see if you're looking for powerful acting or original characters.
There may be a good film to be found within Biker Boyz, but alas, what we get are its skidmarks.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for violence, sexual content and language.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.