Biker Boyz

(2003)  1/2 Pg-13
111 min. DreamWorks. Director: Reggie Rock Bythewood. Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet.

A cookie-cutter rip-off of The Fast and the Furious, Biker Boyz likewise takes its inspiration from an article (Michael Gougis's "Biker Boyz," published in the New Times). It likewise motors along with thick-headed heroes, hot babes, and revved engines. But The Fast and the Furious was at least colorful nonsense, with larger-than-life characters and Ritalin-deprived energy. Biker Boyz director Reggie Rock Bythewood operates under the mistaken impression that his story has import and cultural significance. That'd be well and good if anyone had thought to include any. In their absence, what's left is a soggy, sluggish bore.

Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) plays young hero "Kid" (gee, why not "Boy"?), who bounces back from the trauma of the opening sequence by agressively pursuing biker dominance in the predominantly-African American motorcycle clubs of Southern California. He does this by establishing the misfit Biker Boyz, positioned against the ruling elite.

As in The Fast and the Furious, the illegal races have an illicit appeal and promise of glory for the best. Of course, the spectre of accidental death overshadows the feats of derring-do. Laurence Fishburne plays Smoke, the so-called "King of Cali," oft-disputed but never beaten in the stolen, mostly nocturnal races. The broad, heavy-lidded Fishburne looks sadly resolved to a long haul of bad dialogue.

A sprawling supporting cast--including Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet, Brendan Fehr, Larenz Tate, an utterly presence-less Kid Rock, and an uncredited Eriq LaSalle--hangs around the edges of the frame with expressions that seem to murmur, "Hey, whassup?" A bikini bike wash scene carries the scent of desperation, and an unintentionally silly montage of Biker Boyz paraphernalia spackles the gaps between coming-of-age scenes. Shouldn't a movie called Biker Boyz pay more than lip service to the character development of the Biker Boyz? Rather, Blythewood makes a concerted choice to indulge more angst than fun.

In the pro column, Blythewood orchestrates a picture-opening, one-take travelling shot, and the mid-film plot twist momentarily raises the hope of something more. The film raises interesting ideas--like Jones's white-collar double-life--only to leave them unexplored. And, what, one might ask, makes great biking technique? As near as we can tell, it's all in the "ride" (and, okay, a visually-realized "tunnel vision" focus). Blythewood navigates the thuddingly obvious remainder of the forgettable material (family crises and young love) at a snail's pace.

Of course, who "wins" all comes down to who has the most heart. The father-son climax has it, too neatly, both ways (the main event takes place in--of all places--Fresno). The mantra "Burn rubber, not your soul" gets airplay right to the end, and the death-defying pasttime decried by a worried mama rides off into the sunset.

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