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Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

'Hell Ride'/'Filth and Wisdom'

Not so nice, but very sleazy

Glancing at the poster for "Hell Ride," you'd think it was the second coming of some long-lost 1968 biker flick, some Roger Corman-produced exploitation nasty like "The Wild Angels" or "Chrome and Hot Leather." But no, this is a homage to '60s biker flicks, produced by trash-movie sommelier Quentin Tarantino, and written and directed by Larry Bishop, a guy whose career actually survived starring in many of those old '60s flicks.

Hell Ride Rating: (2 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Hell Ride
Head out on the highway: Bikers hit the road in "Hell Ride"

Director: Larry Bishop
Running time: 84 minutes
Language: English
Opens Jan. 17, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

The Bishop-Tarantino connection formed on "Kill Bill Vol. 2" (2004), where Bishop played an obnoxious strip-club owner. Tarantino proposed a biker revival, and Bishop obliged, stacking the cast with fellow biker veterans Dennis Hopper and David Carradine, as well as Tarantino alumnus Michael Madsen. Bishop — son of rat-pack comedian Joey Bishop — takes the lead role for himself, and it's rather amusing to hear a West Coast white-trash biker talk with a nasal East Coast Jewish accent.

The "plot" has something to do with rivalry between two drug-dealing biker gangs, the Victors and the 666s. Bishop plays Pistolero, the leader of the Victors, who — along with his compatriots The Gent (Madsen) and Commanche (Eric Balfour) — is trying to get revenge for the murder of his girlfriend, Cherokee (Julia Jones), way back in 1976. Opposing him is Billy Wings (perennial hard man Vinnie Jones), a crossbow-wielding biker with the 666s, and aging ex-biker The Deuce (David Carradine). Somewhere in the middle is Eddie Zero, a bar owner played by Dennis Hopper, who gets to revisit all his "Easy Rider" mannerisms, baby.

"Hell Ride" is the kind of movie where all the women wear hot pants and all the men have facial hair and bond by beating each other up. It's got some great unintentionally funny lines (Pistolero: "Did you bring the Peyote? I got some thinking to do"), the obligatory Tarantino-movie torture-sadism scene and some gaping plot holes, the biggest of which involves Pistolero getting shot with an arrow, nearly dying, and then being fully recovered with no explanation given.

The saving grace is the film's canny retro soundtrack, which plunders the entire history of biker flicks for some fantastic proto-surf-punk guitar twang, but my advice would be buy the soundtrack, skip the movie.

In the States, the thing people always say about Chinese food is that you eat it, and then an hour later, you feel hungry again. Well, Americans would say that, wouldn't they? But "Hell Ride" is nothing if not cinematic Chinese takeout, right down to the heavy dose of MSG (motorcycles, sex and guns). For serious grindhouse addicts only.

P op superstar Madonna and British director Guy Ritchie finalized their divorce a while back. But presumably living with a director for a few years is all it takes to become one nowadays, because now Madonna's moved into the director's chair with her debut, "Filth and Wisdom."

Filth and Wisdom Rating: (2 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Filth and Wisdom
Cliche crazy: Eugene Hutz face to face with Holly Weston in "Filth and Wisdom." FILTH AND WISDOM © 2007 SEMTEX FILMS

Director: Madonna
Running time: 84 minutes
Language: English
Opens Jan. 17, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Now, I've never had much regard for Madonna as an actress ("Swept Away," "Evita") or a singer (did somebody say "pitch-correction software?"), but my hopes were somewhat higher for her as a director: You can be sure, if Madonna's good at anything, it's telling people what to do.

"Filth and Wisdom" stars Eugene Hutz, the Borat-moustachioed vocalist with the trendy Gypsy-punk group Gogol Bordello, who plays AK, a Ukrainian singer with a Gypsy-punk band who also works as a dom in S&M punishment sessions for kinky men. He shares a flat with Holly (Kate Moss' body-double, Holly Weston), an unemployed ballerina who turns to stripping to pay the rent, and Juliette (Vicky McClure, "This is England"), a pharmacist's assistant who's addicted to pills and liberal causes. All three have been abused as children, which presumably explains a lot of things. Richard E. Grant ("Withnail and I") turns up as a randy old gay poet who lives downstairs, and comedian Inder Manocha plays Juliette's pharmacist boss, who's got the hots for her.

The film is distinctly Baudelairean, and proceeds in an arch sort of way, with AK directly addressing the viewer: "If you try hard to be a saint, the filth will appear as an oasis in the desert. But if you spent your life in the gutter, sooner or later you'll be searching for wisdom." The idea that a walk on the wild side leads to enlightenment is an idea that's as wrong as often as it's not, but a bigger problem here is: Exactly how wild is a film about strippers and S&M rent boys that doesn't even contain any nudity? As Grant's poet puts it: "Stop being so damned puritanical."

"Filth and Wisdom" is interesting in spurts, but its jokes tend to fall flat, particularly Manocha's Indian druggist, whose sentences bloody use the word "bloody" too bloody much. Hutz exudes a sleazy anticharm, while Weston gives no evidence that her role is anything more than "bimbo." The plot is laughably slipshod, with the biggest howler coming when Holly, a trained ballerina, flails about awkwardly, unable to swirl around a pole with even a modicum of grace until a big-sister stripper pro shows her the ropes.

The film's big MTV moment comes when Holly, suddenly inspired by Britney Spears' deeply inspirational "Baby One More Time," suddenly learns how to dance like a star, which — guess what? — looks exactly like a Madonna routine.

One can't help feeling that the characters here are merely meat puppets used to express the deep musings of the Mad one herself. But narcissism is a fatal flaw for a film — as Baudelaire once put it, "To copulate is to enter into another, but the artist never emerges from himself." Or herself, as the case may be.

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