A pair of robust performances from Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke (the Antwone Fisher of "Antwone Fisher") raise the laughably-titled motorcycle action flick "Biker Boyz" slightly above its veneer as a two-wheel rip-off of "The Fast and the Furious."
Similarly set in the "sideshow" world of illegal street racing, this movie comes minus the ridiculous cops-vs.-smugglers subplot and plus some impressive Western-inspired trick riding. In one scene two bikers speed down the freeway, dismounted to one side of their muscle-cycles with both feet in metal-soled boots, making contact with the road and sending out 20-foot sparks.
But while the plot is utterly predictable -- Kid (Luke), a hot-headed but talented up-and-coming racer, wants to challenge long-time champion Smoke (Fishburne) for his title -- the love-hate relationship between the two (Kid's dad had been Smoke's mechanic) has more depth and dimension than this kind of over-polished B-movie usually musters (see Sylvester Stallone and Kip Pardue in the formulaic, Formula One-themed "Driven").
Tapping into the volatile, ambitious, reckless and frustrated aggression of his character, Luke is charismatic, handsome and a little feral as Kid, who blames Smoke for his daddy's death-by-flying-motorcycle in the opening (a guy Smoke was racing crashed into him).
Having to earn his stripes before he can contest the crown, Kid starts showboating at nightly street races, starts his own motorcycle club (per the rules of the bike racing sub-culture), and starts winning races -- or so we're told. Co-writer and director Reggie Rock Blythewood inexplicably avoids illustrating Kid's rise to prominence on the street-racing scene with any more than a passing mention of the rubber-burning showdowns that build his reputation.
Applying familiar intensity to his role, Fishburne brings wisdom and weight to the seemingly unbeatable Smoke, who sincerely tries to mentor Kid while letting it be known he's not about to give up his crown to an over-confident punk with a chip on his shoulder.
Inspired by an article about underground African-American motorcycle clubs in the Los Angeles area, "Biker Boyz" is largely devoted to flash over substance -- and a lot of that flash is downright silly, like the special-effects tunnel-vision shots employed to show how much Smoke is focused on the finish line when he's racing. During his inevitable, climactic race with Kid, flashback sequences are superimposed on the walls of his tunnel-vision tunnel to show that he's distracted by his relationship with his rash young challenger.
Seemingly convinced the movie is some kind of modern Western, Blythewood also finds a flimsy excuse (the cops shut down a sanctioned, corporate-sponsored event at a race track in Fresno) to transfer the action to a remote farm so he can stage the big showdown finale as if it were in a cowboy picture.
But the surprisingly dedicated acting, by leads and supporting players alike, keeps "Biker Boyz" from becoming as feeble as its recent racing-flick predecessors.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Denzel Washington's wife in "Antwone Fisher") is strong and adoring as Kid's tough but fun-loving mom. Orlando Jones ("Drumline," "The Time Machine") is entertaining as a barker for the bikers by night and an attorney who bails them out after "sideshow" busts by day. Rick Gonzalez (the curly-haired kid from "The Rookie") provides some comic relief as a young con artist who helps Kid hustle I-could-do-that race fans.
Lisa Bonet has convincing biker-girl credibility as Smoke's once and future squeeze. And Meagan Good (who has grown up a whole lot since "Eve's Bayou" in 1998) is confident and dead sexy as Kid's voluptuous girlfriend, whose entire wardrobe seems to have shrunk two sizes at the dry cleaners.
For what it is, "Biker Boyz" is a satisfying ride. But that satisfaction is empty calorie entertainment, the experience of which speeds away from your memory faster than it takes to walk to the car after the movie.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 31st January 2003
Box Office USA: $21.7M
Distributed by: Dreamworks Distribution LLC
Production compaines: DreamWorks Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 70
IMDB: 4.5 / 10
Director: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Starring: Laurence Fishburne as Smoke, Derek Luke as Kid, Orlando Jones as Soul Train, Djimon Hounsou as Motherland, Lisa Bonet as Queenie, Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Half & Half, Vanessa Bell Calloway as Anita
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