Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse was a daring experiment that failed to catch on, an attempt to drag the down-market stuff they grew up on into the 21st century without dislodging a molecule of grit. But Grindhouse's commercial failure wasn't such a bad thing. Had it been a hit, we might be seeing more movies like the Tarantino-produced Hell Ride, a witless reprise of '60s and '70s biker movies written, directed by, and starring Larry Bishop.
Bishop plays Pistolero, a badass motorcycle-gang leader feared by men and desired by women. But as the film opens, Bishop's leadership has reached a point of crisis. A rival gang led by Vinnie Jones (who totes a high-tech crossbow and apparently hails from the bike-loving desert outskirts of London) has killed one of Bishop's best lieutenants, and a new addition to Bishop's gang has some connection to the long-ago death of a female acquaintance.
What's a biker to do? Well, if you're Bishop, you keep your mouth frozen in a half-smirk/half-grimace, and you bike back and forth between a pair of locations, killing and/or fucking while the soundtrack cycles through score snippets from old biker movies. Everyone in Hell Ride seems to be playing dress-up, and apart from Michael Madsen's turn as the tuxedo-shirt-wearing "Gent," no one quite fits into the costumes. Any film that gets Dennis Hopper back on a motorcycle can't be all bad, but Hell Ride sure tries to be. Sludgy even when it hits the highway, it stops at one point for a painful double-entendre-laden exchange in which Bishop and one of the film's succession of biker babes with suspiciously firm breasts and gym-toned abs exchange suggestive lines about "fire-eating," "fire hoses," "calling the fire department," and on and on. (They're actually talking about sex. Get it?) Elsewhere, a character praises adherence to the three B's: "bikes, beer, and booty." Hell Ride features plenty of all three, but someone should have told Bishop that working through a checklist isn't the same as making a movie.