Hell Ride, an unabashed biker exploitation picture, wants to be an affectionate love letter to the genre movies that flickered through the smoky air of '60s and '70s "grind houses." It's a curious mixture of biker flick and Sergio Leone spaghetti western that takes place in present day but feels like its own time... lawless and barbaric. Unfortunately, the only thing that works in the film is the throwback style and visual tone it lovingly mimics. It overcomplicates a simple plot and comes off as an arrogant effort to be like something which was anything but arrogant in the first place. Those films were made on meager budgets and were shot in days not months, but they still managed to work in big budget themes and motifs. Producer Quentin Tarantino purposefully kept the budget low for Hell Ride, hoping to force the filmmakers to remain as authentic to the genre as possible, but instead of low-budget "fun," we get low-budget "bad."
Directed, written by and starring Larry Bishop -- son of Rat Packer Joey Bishop -- Hell Ride gets some of the things right that made these types of films so alluring back in the day. It features plenty of beer, bikes and booty, but it misses on the chance to make it all relevant. The cast, which includes the aforementioned Bishop as well as Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour and Vinnie Jones -- and throws in David Carradine and Dennis Hopper for old times sake -- does a great job of carrying forth the attitude and bravado, but the anemic script fails to hold its end of the bargain.
The story pits Pistolero (Bishop) and "The Victors" against Deuce's (Carradine) "Six-Six-Sixers" in a grudge match that goes back decades. Pistolero has been safekeeping a key for a woman whose throat is slit open by the Six-Six-Sixers in one of the film's opening scenes. He's to give the key to her now grown son, but the dead woman haunts his dreams and the opposing gang wants the key. Mutiny, money and betrayal come into play in an insipid plot that took Bishop years to write with the help of producer Michael Steinberg and Shana Stein. It's really a quite simple story but the timeline-mangling way it's told makes it rather confusing… if not downright boring. It's a perfect example of style over substance, but even the style part of the equation wears thin within the film's first fifteen minutes. A scant 85-minute runtime works heavily in its favor.
Visually, Hell Ride hits more than it misses. It's gritty, dirty and stinky, overloading our senses with all the unscrupulous things these types of films are meant to exploit. Bishop placed an emphasis on sexuality as he always felt that was one aspect most absent from motorcycle genre films of the late '60s. As a result, Hell Ride features more bared flesh than a Wisconsin meat packing company. The violence is extremely graphic with throat slashings and beheadings which leave little to the imagination but conversely do nothing to raise the film's interest level above that of any B-grade horror slasher running on nightly cable.
One particularly huge miss comes in the form of schlocky dialogue and unimaginative conversations. One would be hard-pressed to guess that Bishop claims among some of his biggest influences, the talky films of Tarantino, as his conversations in Hell Ride are both unintelligible and poorly devised. Quips meant to be clever come off as amateurish and cringe inducing, as if the actors don't seem convinced of the material.
What should have been a cool homage to the violent anti-establishment biker films of a day gone by is instead a cheap knock-off of a genre that cranked out these films on the super-cheap. Most were bad, but if we're going to dip our toes in the send-up pool, let's at least make good films about a low-budget genre. Play Hell Ride in the '70s... it would still be considered a bad film.
(Released by Third Rail Releasing and rated “R” for strong violence, sexual content including graphic nudity and dialogue, language and drug use.)