When I first heard I was assigned to see a movie called "Torque," I thought, At last! A musical version of the life of Torquemada.
But no -- that would have been "Torque!" This is "Torque" without the exclamation mark, as in "a force that produces rotation or torsion." Yet this "Torque" produces little in the way of rotation, torsion or anything else that could be roughly diagrammed as excitement. Directed by Joseph Kahn, who has made music videos for the likes of U2, Moby, Britney Spears and Eminem, "Torque" looks like an extended Mountain Dew commercial (and sure enough, that mysterious clear beverage receives prominent product placement). There's lots of fast cutting, and close-ups of gears and stuff that flare out into action shots of motorcycles revving up and taking off. In visual terms, you can rarely tell what's actually happening, but you're left with the bewildering sense that, whatever it is, it's really cool.
In "Torque" two motorcycle gangs square off, one led by Ice Cube (an actor who has rarely, if ever, given a bad performance, and who might have turned in a decent one here if he'd had a character to play in the first place), the other by grizzled bad 'un Matt Schulze (his character's name is Henry James, perhaps a tribute to his great emotional depth and eloquence in expressing himself -- or maybe not). Stalwart motorcycle loner Martin Henderson (who closely resembles the young Kurt Russell but who, disappointingly, is not) is jammed into the very center of the conflict, which gives him many opportunities to strut hither and yon in some fetching motorcycle leathers. His estranged girlfriend, a glamorous grease monkey played by Monet Mazur, allegedly has much skill and wisdom when it comes to motorcycle parts, although you rarely see her actually handling any.
The absence of a real story or even a single engaging character wouldn't matter much if "Torque" weren't so damn torpid. This is a movie that spells exhilaration without actually giving us any. "Torque" was obviously designed to cash in on the success of "The Fast and the Furious" (Neal H. Moritz is one of the producers of both, and Schulze also appeared in the earlier picture), but it has none of that movie's thrilling, casual disreputability. Shot by Peter Levy ("Under Suspicion," "Lost in Space"), "Torque" throws off an indistinct, blurry brightness, without actually giving us much to look at. The violence is cartoony and stylized, but it's also too muddled to throw off any heat or energy. For a movie that's supposed to be about speed and movement, "Torque" is a peculiarly slow kind of torture. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition -- especially not in an action movie.