Biker Boyz Review
If you haven't already had your fix of high-speed action this month, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by Biker Boyz. A racing drama which stars Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke as rival motorcyclists, it's a B-movie with uncommon intelligence and heart and it deserves a wider audience than it's received. Unlike the Fast And Furious films, where the cars are just a gimmick to sex up the action movie cliches, Biker Boyz is an honest attempt to make a film about street racing culture. Director Reggie Rock Blythewood shows a genuine interest in the kind of people whose lives revolve around their bikes and who spend their nights revving their engines at illegal race meetings.
Derek Luke, who gave a powerful debut performance in Antwone Fisher, plays Kid, a teenager born into a family of motorbike fanatics. His father (Eriq La Salle) rides with the Black Knights, who dominate L.A.'s underground racing circuit, and his dad's best friend Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) is the undisputed champion and holder of the title "King of Cali". Kid wants nothing more than to be a Black Knight himself until the night a tragic accident takes his father's life during one of Smoke's races. Holding the veteran responsible, Kid drops out for six months and then re-appears at a meeting as a challenger to Smoke's crown. The rules say he can't race the champ till he's established himself so he forms his own gang, the Biker Boyz, and works his way towards the inevitable showdown. However, there's a lot Kid and Smoke don't know about each other and their relationship turns out to be much more complicated than it at first appeared.
Though there are female bikers in the film, including one lesbian, it's a macho world, something the script acknowledges and deals with. Blythewood and co-screenwriter Craig Fernandez play up parallels between the bikers and medieval knights with their steeds. Races are set up like jousting matches by throwing down a challenge and your honour is at stake if you don't accept. Also, in an amusing scene straight out of Braveheart, two gangs line up at opposite ends of a field while representatives meet in the middle to discuss terms. Subcultures like this may be the last refuge of the warrior male, the only places left in western society where a man can strut around, prove himself against other men and win the favours of women. The script isn't afraid to tweak the characters' machismo either, as when Kid's mother, played by Vanessa Bell Calloway, storms into Smoke's gang headquarters and orders him to stop her son racing. The King of Cali is no match for an angry mother! However, the film stops short of portraying the riders as outlaws, as is traditionally the case in biker films. Although there are fights and the police clearly disapprove of the races, biking is shown mostly in positive terms - the gangs even organise a bikini bike-wash as a charity benefit for local schoolchildren.
The script shows rare intelligence for a racing film. The main characters are surprisingly complex and the supporting cast is large and colourful. Derek Luke proves he's a star of the future while Laurence Fishburne brings his customary gravity to a character just as cool as Morpheus but a lot more human. Orlando Jones, Lisa Bonet, Kid Rock and Djimon Hounsou are among the recognisible faces backing up the leads. Jones, who deserves to be a bigger star than he is, does a particularly good job as the Black Knights' fast-witted emcee whose day job provides a nice moment of wry humour. The bike races are well staged and, although computer effects are occasionally used to simulate the characters' viewpoints (the same "in the zone" effect that was seen in Driven), the film pleasingly relies on stunt work rather than CGI. The one real fault is overlength - an hour and fifty minutes is too much for a B-movie. Still, the odd slow stretch is forgivable when a film is this engrossing. Even the ending shows signs of having been thought through. I'd fully expected the outcome to be inevitable but no, for once we get an conclusion based on character development, not formula. When the credits roll, the story actually feels resolved.