I’ve never seen a film directed by a penis before. We came close with 1984’s “Hardbodies,” but “Hell Ride” appears to have been fully helmed by Larry Bishop’s male appendage. Congratulations, Mr. Bishop, I salute this achievement...from a safe and hygienic distance.
A motorcycle gang riding along sweltering southwestern interstates, the Victors are made up of leader Pistolero (Larry Bishop), The Gent (Michael Madsen), and Comanche (Eric Balfour). They’re on the hunt for revenge, dealing with numerous double-crosses and the wrath of the Six-Six-Six gang, run by homicidal maniac Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). As the Victors inch closer to reclaiming their rightful score, their allegiance to each other is tested, with Pistolero finding the only thing more dangerous than his fellow gang members is the trail of discarded women he’s left behind.
Frankly, I’m not sure what “Hell Ride” is actually about. This is not a film that invites academic concentration on the plot, since to find the story, one would have to claw through a thick membrane of sleaze just to view some drama.
Instead of “Masterpiece Theater,” we have a keyhole peep into writer/director Larry Bishop’s B-movie id. The star of such drive-in cult classics as “Chrome and Hot Leather” and “Angel Unchained,” Bishop is perhaps best known to today’s audiences as Madsen’s hilariously irate strip-club boss in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” The reference is important to note because Tarantino executive produces “Hell Ride,” and his fingerprints are smudged all over this nutty production.
Not that Tarantino’s involvement is a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite, encouraging Bishop to indulge his every biker gang fantasy with “Hell Ride,” turning the picture into a colorful midway experience stocked with throat-slittings, peyote visions, bicentennial flashbacks, nude oil wrestling, Madsen sitting in a tree pretending he’s an owl, and derrieres galore. Heavens, does Bishop enjoy the female hind quarters. Russ Meyer had breasts, Tarantino adores feet, and Larry Bishop can’t get enough ass; a potent feminine symbol the film spends huge chunks of the screentime admiring. However oddball the fixation remains, it sort of mixes in nicely with the film’s lurid tone of lust and larceny, which Bishop exploits for maximum discomfort.
Goosing the lunacy further is the screenplay, in which Bishop prepares elongated, twisty speeches for his characters, not for expositional purposes, only to hear them speak his streetwise poetry. It’s a breathless Tarantino Jr. writing effort, with the actors rambling on and on trying to maneuver around this sunburned iambic pentameter, with Bishop himself only succeeding in making the stylized lip service compelling. It’s an idiosyncratic screenplay with a handful of generously goofy moments, but the rest is warming-lamp Tarantino leftovers.
Bishop is better painting a grizzled, dusty, sun-caked atmosphere, manipulating “Hell Ride” into a rough revenge orchestration with macho, filthy men and their steeds of steel. There’s a grungy, lascivious spirit to “Hell Ride” that’s easy to tap into, only Bishop isn’t supportive of a consistent tone, chasing tiny bad ideas instead of paying attention to the dizzyingly hard-boiled whole. The picture has enough testosterone running through its veins to put the entire sport of MMA to shame, not to mention a Dennis Hopper cameo of atypical charm, but “Hell Ride” is too insular to reach out and grab the audience.
I wouldn’t recommend “Hell Ride” to the casual viewer, as the film is far too specific an experience to appeal to the unprepared soul. It’s an irascible B-movie throwback with a few great scenes, truckloads of titillation and female objectification, and the most entertainingly bored performance I’ve seen emerge from Michael Madsen since “Species II.” For those tuned into this sort of thing on a regular basis, it’s worth the effort to fight Bishop’s inconsistent direction and sloppy screenwriting.