Film

Biker Boyz (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Amid all the conventional movie dazzle, Biker Boyz's most important idea is the bike.


Biker Boyz

Director: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Tyson Beckford, Lisa Bonet, Brendan Fehr, Kadeem Hardison, Djimon Hounsou, Terrence Howard, Orlando Jones, Kid Rock, Eriq La Salle, Larenz Tate, Vanessa Bell Calloway
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: DreamWorks
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-01-31

On the 30 January Today Show, Laurence Fishburne rolled up on his motorcycle. He and his mini-crew of bikers revved their engines and wore colorful leather jackets; after a little chitchat, Fish presented host Al Roker with a jacket of his very own. Happy as all get-out, Al tore off his overcoat and tried on the new gear, turning his back to the camera so everyone in tv-land could see that he was proudly promoting Fishburne's new movie, Biker Boyz.

In fact, as Fishburne noted during his two minutes on air with Al, he rides, for real. Noting that the film is inspired by a particular bikers' subculture -- highly competitive, organized, and proud --Fishburne explained that the community is "predominantly black, but they don't exclude anybody."

This detail says something about how Biker Boyz was made and how it's being marketed. Loud and rowdy as it may be, the film is plainly designed to appeal across demographics, with a range of (many) performers (Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Lisa Bonet, Kid Rock) and a range of narrative elements (action, comedy, melodrama). Thematically, it looks backward and forward at once: back to old school Westerns (the aging hero confronts the young gun) and forward to the next logical step in the genre most raucously represented by The Fast and the Furious. Drawing from video games, extreme sports, the WWF, and Saturday morning cartoons, these new-fangled flicks are short on character complexity, long on incredible visual display -- spinning camerawork, digital timing (as in "bullet"), and thrilling stunts enacted by busty girls and buff guys.

Based on a New Times article by Michael Gougis and scripted by Craig Fernandez, Biker Boyz is also careful to respect its sources, showing the bikers in their various glories -- they're not boozing smackdown hooligans, but lawyers, husbands, doctors, and what we might call venerable women (see, for instance, Half and Half, played by Salli Richardson, tough chick extraordinaire -- who garnered applause from the biker club audience with whom I saw the film every time she appeared on screen). They're also energetically multi-racial, which makes them of a piece with recent action film casts: The Transporter, The Matrix, The Scorpion King and anything Vin Diesel (a one man multi-culti cast).

This latest version of the smash-action adventure is plainly designed to appeal across multiple communities -- gendered, raced, aged, and classed. The story involves father and son conflicts, youthful passions, elder responsibilities, and inter-gang competitions. Possible larger frameworks -- legal or social -- only exist on the edges, to make bike racing slightly difficult (at one point, faceless cops bust up a match; in another, offscreen authorities make the bikers move their contest from a safe raceway to a farmer's dirt road). For the most part, the bikers live in their own world, in Southern California -- drinking, zooming, posturing, popping wheelies, getting intricate tattoos, and riding into all kinds of sunsets.

The central narrative involves Fishburne's renowned biker, Smoke, and a young upstart named Jaleel (Derek Luke). The latter's father, Slick Will (Eriq La Salle), is Smoke's mechanic, and the kid (whose nickname is, apparently significantly, Kid) resents that he appears to do whatever Smoke says and Smoke, leader of the Black Knights Club, gets all the public respect and glory. When, in one of the first scenes, his father is killed in a freak accident (he's not even riding), Kid briefly drops out of the scene to reassess. He returns, of course ("Six months later," reads the helpful title), to challenge Smoke to a Big Race. This against the noisy resistance of his mother, Anita (Vanessa Bell Calloway), who tells him that in the ER, where she works, they call bikers "organ donors." This point about the risks of biking is certainly made in the first brutal death scene, and a sign of Smoke's maturity is his realization that there are more important things to do than win races.

Still, he's initially distracted by persistent mini-challenges from bikers like Dogg (Kid Rock), who tends to bump opponents off the track. Meanwhile, Kid has his own obstacles to overcome, namely, the rules of the biker set. To get access to Smoke, first he has to put together his own crew, in order to rise to the level of legitimacy, so he starts a club with his buddies Stuntman (Brendan Fehr) and Primo (Rick Gonzalez). Visibly "diverse," this trio attracts a next generation of bikers to their organization: the first two newbies are Filipino, played by real life brothers Dante and Dion Brasco. Clever, gifted, and brash, these kids are quick to mount outrageous stunts, daring their elders to keep up.

The basic Western structure -- Kid and Smoke's rivalry -- makes for a predictable plot trajectory: Kid will learn some lessons, "King of Cali" Smoke will have to face his own demons, Anita will reveal a secret, and Kid's bodacious girlfriend, Tina (Meagan Good), will show some skin. It also grants the proceedings traditional emotional weight. (It helps that Luke, of Antwone Fisher fame, and other participants are solid performers -- no Paul Walkers here.) Most often, the film's emotional tensions take the form of soap operatic close-ups (Bell Calloway most definitely carries these scenes).

That's not to say that everyone has a decent role; some characters feel like they've been cut, rather cruelly. Terrence Howard, Djimon Hounsou, and Tyson Beckford have about two or three minutes on screen each; designated troublemaker Wood (Larenz Tate) picks on Kid and sparks a fight; and, as Smoke's infinitely patient current squeeze, Queenie, Lisa Bonet spends too much time gazing up at her big-chested man.

Director Reggie Rock Bythewood (who made the sharp tv-industry breakdown, Dancing in September) keeps the pace pumping (at least until the predictable end). The images alternate between ostentatious titillation shots (tracking short-shorted girls or showing cleavage, especially during the Black Knights Bikini Bike Wash), high-octane racing images (some mutating into blurry-edged "tunnel vision" POV frames, suggesting the rider's otherworldly concentration), and dramatic domestic scenes (handheld, intimate, poignant).

Amid all the conventional movie dazzle, Biker Boyz's most important idea is the bike. However you read it, as a sign of freedom or aggression, individuality or conformity, potency, masculinity, and/or beauty, the bike is broadly mythic, proudly ritual, absolutely immediate and material. It looks great in the stunts and trick shots, and its on-screen speed is downright visceral. What's remarkable about this film is that, at last, the bike's power and appeal are granted to a "predominantly" black, multi-racial group of folks who "don't exclude anybody." And that's radical.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image