Sam Strange Remembers: TORQUE

The Hollywood legend recounts the time he made the greatest magic motorcycle movie ever, TORQUE.

For the longest time, I had a love affair with my car. I drove it everywhere. I had parties in it. A whole gross of my children were conceived and birthed in it. Eventually, though, my car and I had to part ways. Our primary contention being, I have a lust for Sonic Drive-Ins and my car was a decommissioned L.A. Transit bus.

So I bought a really badass motorcycle called a Vespa. It’s pretty slick, and often people yell at me jealously from their SUVs because they know I can get into Sonic so much easier than they can. I also get about 150 miles per gallon. That leaves a lot of room in my wallet for chilly-cheese coneys.

This inspired me to make a movie about how great motorcycles are and how much cars suck. So…Torque. I thought it was just a cool-sounding word, but it turns out “torque” is the word used for the power required to make a wheel turn. This is why torque is measured in Conans. My Vespa packs a whopping two Conan the Barbarians of torque.

Torque is about a guy named James Ford (Josh Holloway). Like everyone in this movie, we get to know his character automatically by the rock band on his T-shirt. Ford wears a Ramones shirt, so his rock n’ roll is pretty legit. He also wears a leather jacket embroidered with “Carpe Diem,” Latin for “Seize the Carpet.” This tells us that he’s smart and sensitive enough to have seen Dead Poets Society.

Ford has been in Thailand, Bangkok for the last six months, just backpacking across the countryside with monks and, you know, generally learning about his inner-self and how he can better seize the carpet.

But now he’s BACK. We first meet him racing down a dusty, deserted highway. He comes across two yucky cars having a race. Because he’s driving a motorcycle, and not a stupid car, he blows by them with ease. There’s a special thing going on with the motorcycles in this film. They are so fast and so furious that the air displaced in their wake turns into a kind of weaponized magic. Ford weaves between the cars, ruining the paint job of each (this is a film in which paint jobs = testicles). When they try to chase after him, his motorcycle mocks them further by transforming every road sign they see into pictures of them from the third grade when they had amateur Vanilla Ice hair.

Ford arrives at a crappy roadside diner. He’s not there to eat, though. Inside, he finds an old picture of him and his ex-girlfriend amid a wall of similar photos. This wall of champions commemorates those few souls brave enough to eat ten pounds of dry deer jerky in one hour without going to the bathroom. His time in Bangkok may have knocked her face from his brain, but no amount of meditation can make him forget the stomach cancer.

Now that he remembers what his lady looks like, it’s time to track her down and re-enter his old life. This journey takes him to Venice Beach, a place where motorcycle gangs hang out and sell shell necklaces out of tents. It’s a community of rebels, each desperately terrified someone will find out about their trust fund.

A lot of info gets introduced in the next ten minutes as we meet the area’s rival gangs. There’s the black gang, called the Reapers. They look tough but they aren’t in the motorcycle game to sell drugs. Like girls, they just wanna have fun. The main Reaper, Tray, (Martin Lawrence) constantly has to bail out his trigger-happy little brother named Tricycle. He’s worried that someday that fool gonna get got.

Then there’s the anti-black gang called the Hellions. The Hellions are all proudly white trash, completely ignorant that they’ve named themselves after Crispen Glover. They want to sell the shit out of drugs. The main Hellion, Harry Rollins, has a knowing mullet and wears a Motörhead shirt, so we know his parents loved him but his uncle loved him better and more often.

Then there’s Ford’s gang, which is pretty small and doesn’t have a fancy title because his sensitivity elevates him above such things. You got James, his Asian friend (Metallica shirt) and his Mexican friend (Rolling Stones). James’ gang specializes in stealing motorcycles from other gangs only to return them later in funny ways. They record their targets’ anger and relief on hidden cameras and edit it together for a motorcycle gang TV Show called The Jamie Kennedy X-Periment, Hosted by Jaime Pressly.

Finally, we meet the FBI gang, which is smaller still. Tom Cruise’s little nephew Aaron plays the cocky main FBI guy, Johnny Utah. Some lady plays his partner. Her name is Gary Busey. Motorcycle people don’t really get along with the FBI biker gang because they have stock options instead of trust funds and they also do not ride motorcycles. Instead, Johnny Utah parks his Humvee on the beach and sells shell necklaces out of that.

So now that the four gangs are established, James has to go get his girlfriend back. She’s pissed because when he slipped off to Asia, he left her with a womb full of beef jerky which she had to motorcycle all the way to Canada to abort. She’s super hot in a motorcycle way, which means the valley between her boobs is six inches wide and she’s over forty years old.

Ford explains to her that he had to leave America quickly because he stole a motorcycle from the Hellions which happened to be filled with heroin. He wanted to make money off it, but had to go to Asia to learn how. She accepts this answer because the biker lifestyle has limited her choices substantially.

But he can’t just come home without expecting some shit. As soon as he meets his girl, the main Hellion shows up asking about his heroin. Ford just shrugs off the question like it’s not important. Harry Rollins isn’t having it though. “Next time I see you,” he growls, “I’m gonna motorcycle your ass off!” So that’s on.

Harry Rollins needs a way to get Ford in enough trouble with his father to have his trust fund cut so he’ll finally have to become a yuppie lawyer. The plan he comes up with is pretty remarkable. First, he cuts off his motorcycle’s bike chain. This means he’ll have to manually pedal his bike, but it’s worth it.

Next, he sees Tricycle, the hot-head Reaper, get in a fight with James Ford at a populated night club called Scooter’s. Immediately after, he strangles Tricycle with his broken bike-chain. Because of the fight, everyone now thinks Ford is responsible for the murder. This puts both the Reapers and the FBI bikers on his ass. Meanwhile, the Hellions are after him for their stolen heroin. Whew! That’s a lot of plot to be resolved via motorcycle altercations!

First, the Reapers. Ford doesn’t really have to worry about the whole gang, just Tray. It’s one of those things where if you kill the main guy, all the other assholes eventually wander home to play yell-at-the-tv Jeopardy with their fathers. Tray catches up with Ford along some train tracks. As their fight progresses, a train comes along and they hop their motorcycles on it, Tray riding along the top while Ford buzzes through coach, his motorcycle magic turning everyone’s Hot Pockets into filet mignon, his favorite cut. They love him for that and begin rocking the car side to side to shake-off Tray. Tray snarls and falls between cars, where he uses motorcycle magic to disengage all but one car from the train.

As his car slows down, Ford revs his bike and ramps out. His ramp is so successful that he even jumps over Tray and the train’s engine. Though he’s not even moving, Tray ramps, too, and follows him through the air.

They land next side by side on the tracks, the train riding up their ass as they punch and kick the shit out of each other. Tray falls of his bike, and the train slams on its breaks to avoid running over his head. It’s a pretty close call. Seriously, another couple inches and would have missed popping Tray like a grape.

Next, the FBI. Johnny Utah and Gary Busey track Ford down in his cave hide-out. They’re about to arrest him, but he busts some motorcycle science. Apparently, every motorcycle bike chain has DNA that can be matched to blood samples from its original bike. If they run it through their computers, Harry Rollins’ bike will turn up, proving Ford’s innocence. This is an especially good bit of science because the FBI motorcycle gang is insecure about not knowing motorcycle stuff so they won’t ask any questions.

Sadly, Johnny Utah is actually working with Harry Rollins. In a surprising turn of events, he shoots his partner with a gun loaded with motorcycle magic bullets. This blows off one half of her face while giving the other half a bunch of tear tattoos.

Enraged by this betrayal, Ford telekinetically lifts his motorcycle and throws it at Johnny Utah, crushing him. Just then, Harry Rollins finally shows up on his heroin motorcycle. This is a very special motorcycle. It has windows, four wheels, and can comfortably fit a whole family. Ford claps his hands and reveals he has a special motorcycle, too. He’s been riding it the whole movie. Fucking badass.

So the two go at it.

First they take jousting runs from across a field.

Then their motorcycles do wheelies that punch each other’s front tires.

Rollins’ bike attempts to sweep the leg of Ford’s bike but he jumps it.

Then the motorcycles turn into horses, and the horses bite each other.

Then they turn back into motorcycles.

Then one turns into a Pepsi machine while the other turns into a Mountain Dew machine and they shoot sodas back and forth.

Thanks to excess motorcycle magic, a turd on the road turns into a Coke machine, while a drifting cigarette butt turns into a Dr. Pepper machine and THEY fight too.

Vin Diesel and The Rock drift through like tumble-weed in an completely unrelated fight.

200 naked women follow them across the screen.

Watching at home, Superboy Prime gets too close to the television and bumps his head, thus resurrecting Gene Siskel (played with respect by Bob Balaban).

Gene Siskel appraises Torque as a film and commits suicide.

In the end, Ford’s motorcycle unleashes all its Conans of Torque in one giant blast. The force strips Harry Rollins’ bike of all pretense, revealing that it’s been powered by Red Sonja Torque this whole time. Rollins promptly dies of embarrassment. James Ford rides off into the sunset with his bike, his girl, his innocence, and a shitload of biker heroin. After years of trying, he finally seized his carpet.

I’d say it’s the best motorcycle movie you could ask for. If it had made more money, I would have done a whole series of movies where motorcycles fight various cars, leading to a big Torque/Transformers crossover. Too bad.

(three stars)