With all of its danger and bravado, it would be interesting to really get to the bottom of the underground motorcycle racing subculture. Of course, that’s probably what magazine writer Michael Gougis did with his article before the producers of Biker Boyz got their hands on it.
At the outset, Biker Boyz seems like it’s going to be fairly insightful into this world, at least as much so as a fictionalized adventure film can be. Co-writer / director Reggie Rock Bythewood’s camera skitters about the ground, cutting an interesting swath through the parties, races and pulse of this scene. And there are a couple exciting stunts and races, accompanied not by dumb, loud techno, but by sedate rap from Mos Def.
But it’s a safe bet that Gougis’ article did not include the film’s “dramatic” twist that slows the movie down to a pretty slow crawl. And there’s a mid-movie montage so laughable that it looks like an X Games commercial on ESPN.
Essentially, Biker Boyz is a soap opera wrapped up in the trashy-but-flashy packaging of The Fast and the Furious (coincidentally also a not-so-insightful movie about racing based on a probably-more-intriguing magazine article).
Laurence Fishburne is Smoke, the boastful king of California’s underground motorcycle racing circuit and leader of the racing gang The Black Knights. Derek Luke plays Kid, an 18-year-old upstart whose late father (Eriq LaSalle) was Smoke’s mechanic. Kid blames Smoke for keeping down his father’s ambitions.
Kid calls Smoke out and challenges him to a race, but Kid’s inexperience on the set (as it’s called) is quickly laughed off. Knowing he needs his own club, group acceptance and, most importantly, a handful of won races under his belt, Kid forms the Biker Boyz group and sets his sights on Smoke’s crown.
The strongest asset of Biker Boyz is its lead acting from Fishburne and Antwone Fisher’s Luke. Even though he looks pudgier than usual, Fishburne has taken a page from Samuel L. Jackson’s school of slow-burn cool. And despite having to jump his character through the lame plot hoops, Luke again shows a charming smile and smoldering intensity.
The same can’t be said for its supporting cast of racers and hangers-on, which is totally wasted with the exception of one actress. Can anyone else see Orlando Jones as little more than the 7-Up pitchman? The character played by Djimon Hounsou (Amistad) essentially disappears an hour in. Larenz Tate has one good line, but also one real line of shtick that gets old. And Kid Rock … well, he just looks silly.
Only Vanessa Bell Calloway, as Kid’s strong-willed mom, Anita, registers as a supporting character with any personality and presence. Thankfully, Bythewood doesn’t cop out and drop her story, giving her a touching scene with Luke to resolve a conflict between the two.
That conflict, though, is what slows the movie down. Without ruining it, let’s just say that, as in Antwone Fisher, Kid doesn’t really know his father. Meant to heighten the intensity, it instead makes us dive for our watch, waiting for the 20-minutes-to-go mark when the showdown between Kid and Smoke will begin.
Is it reasonable to expect insight into why someone would ride a motorcycle at 150 miles per hour from a movie too hip to spell “boys” correctly? Certainly not. But it’s no less reasonable for this movie to entertain us by providing that insight before crashing headlong into a rock-hard wall of melodrama.