Hell Ride is a deliberate, calculated throwback, referencing and recycling the cheapie bike-sploitation flicks of the '60s and early '70s as a band of burly brothers roar, rage and ride their way through the American Southwest on a rampage of revenge. Written by, directed by and starring Larry Bishop, Hell Ride thrums and roars with attitude; problem is, the drive shaft components of plot and character and logic just aren't there, meaning that even when Bishop hits the throttle, the roar and rattle can't hide the fact nothing's really happening.
Hell Ride revolves around a cycle gang known as The Victors, led by Pistolero (Bishop), with the tuxedo-shirt clad The Gent (Michael Madsen) riding on his right and recent inductee Comanche (Eric Balfour) an up-and-coming lieutenant in the organization, on his left. The Victors are trying to take care of business -- although what business it is they're in is never quite explained -- and the only thing interfering with that is Pistolero's obsession with righting the wrong done decades ago to Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones), slain on the 4th of July in 1976. The Gent and Comanche are rubbed the wrong way by Pistolero's campaign of retribution, especially with the Six-Six-Six'ers and their kill-crazy leader Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) edging in on Victors turf. ... Bishop is obviously and enthusiastically revamping the '60s and '70s biker film with Hell Ride, from wink-and-nod casting like David Carradine and Dennis Hopper in minor parts to the use of music cues from films like Hell's Belles, The Wild Angels and The Savage Seven. But the bygone biker flicks of yesterday (usually produced by on the fly by Roger Corman's American International Pictures in the hope of spinning the counterculture into a box-office cash count) are bygone for a reason; generally, they play much better as the two-to-three minute long mini-movies time and memory carve them into than they do at feature length. How many montages of motorcycles roaring down the open road do you need?
Well, however high that number is for you, Hell Ride will meet and exceed it, guaranteed. Problem is, it doesn't do much else. Bishop has a certain ratty charisma, but he seems to be overly fond of giving himself sex scenes, and he's tragically enamored of his own rat-a-tat dialogue. Placing an old enemy at the scene of the crime, he notes that certain events took place " ... right around the summer of '76 when you '86'ed yourself from the Six-Six-Six'ers. ..." His nemesis notes that he has " ... no memory of it at all, but I ain't no Marcel Proust." This stuff hits less often than it misses; a lengthy fire-as-sex metaphor discussion between Pistolero and his main lady Nada (Leonor Varela) is only funny until you realize just how long it's going to keep going.
There's some fairly lively cinematography in Hell Ride, but there are also a host of head-scratching plot holes: Didn't we see one of our leads get shot in the stomach with an arrow? What happened with that, anyhow? And why's it taken 32 years for Pistolero to exact his revenge? An interesting side note about how The Deuce (David Carradine) has moved from being in a cycle gang to being a respectable entrepreneur -- someone's got to sell big bikes to bankers who long to be weekend warriors -- is briefly raised and then discarded to get to more shooting, looting and riding.
Hell Ride also sloshes about in a swamp of retarded sexuality that makes Frank Miller (Sin City, The Spirit, 300) look like Naomi Wolf. Every female character is a murder victim, a sex kitten, or bare-breasted background dressing; yes, the biker flicks of yore were hardly progressive documents, but it might have been nice to see some modern ideas about gender and sex put into a present-day film. Instead, Hell Ride features plenty of flesh but no spirit, sex without sensuality, and female characters who are only there to get fucked, groped or killed. It's not just that I was offended by Bishop's motorbike misogyny; it's also that I was bored.
As our characters chase the truth and the missing safe-deposit box that serves as the McGuffin for Hell Ride, we get a tasting menu of several classic biker flick moments -- the hip-shaking ladies dancing at the beach bonfire, the shootout in the sun, the peyote-induced vision quest in the desert. But, again, moments aren't movies. I can't even think that Hell Ride is a satire of biker flick excess; it takes itself pretty seriously, and drapes itself in blood and gore without ever quite asserting the outlaw's code that demands this blood be shed. Bishop undoubtedly loves biker films and biker culture (there's frequent use of the infamous "1%" logo, a fairly big biker bona fide); it's too bad he couldn't think of a little more story to provide a real foundation to all those trappings and tropes.
At the end of the day, if you want to watch goateed men with leather outfits and leathery skin shoot, stab, screw, swear and sweat their way through the blazing heat of the American Southwest, Hell Ride provides all that and less; anyone who isn't full-throttle fascinated with outlaw biker culture and coasting on their hazy memories of motorcycle-gang flicks of the past will probably realize early on, as I did, that Hell Ride is running on fumes without a real destination in mind.