“Something’s rotten in the State of Pistolero.”
Skip’s rating: It’s a whopper of a chopper opera.
Skip’s review: I’ll admit it. I went through a biker phase.
When Sons of Anarchy debuted in 2008, I was freshly graduated from high school. I’d joined the U.S. Army, and was on a journey of self-discovery at that time when you’re still pliable — like a little emotional ball of Play-Doh. For one reason or another, I really clung to biker culture. I watched all of the biker media I could find (including really crummy ’60s biker films). I read all of the biker magazines (especially the ones in plastic wrap that you had to be of legal age to purchase). I even had tentative plans to buy my own motorcycle (though, full disclosure, this never came to fruition).
Amongst all of that, I found Hell Ride.
On the surface, this looks like any other made-for-TV menagerie of machismo designed to just be good fun for the types of folks who overuse cologne that they had to get from behind a locked cabinet at the Walmart (but hey, the ladies love that good ol’ Brut smell). Behind that facade, this film packs some serious biker film cred.
First of all, it is “presented by Quentin Tarantino.” While that may or may not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, you can almost always guarantee that a film doesn’t get the Tarantino stamp of executive producer approval without at least being an homage to the source material, and if nothing else it will be action-packed.
The film is also written and directed by Larry Bishop, who may not be a name you recognize, but is most likely someone your favorite actor’s favorite actor has worked with. He’s also been in more old biker films than you can shake a dipstick at, so he knows what the genre is about.
Bishop stars as Pistolero, the president of The Victors, an outlaw biker club somewhere in the American West (given the dusty landscape). Pistolero is facing several problems which need to work themselves out by the conclusion of this little biker bash. His crew is turning on him. The ones who aren’t are being murdered by rival biker Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and his club the Six Six Sixers. He’s also still trying to get revenge for the death of Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones), an old lover and the catalyst for everything Pistolero does in the film.
Along the way, we meet a cast of Tarantino regulars (Michael Madsen and Laura Cayouette), Hollywood old heads (David Carradine and biker film legend Dennis Hopper), and some fresh faces (Eric Balfour). The astounding cast takes what can only be described as typical bikesploitation fare (described eloquently as the three Bs — bikes, booze, and babes), and makes the audience actually give a crap about what happens as the story unfolds.
The story itself is disjointed. Maybe it is my ADHD, but I didn’t track exactly what was going on when I first watched this film. Even now, years later after several viewings, I still catch a bit of the story that I didn’t notice previously just because of how much the story jumps around. The characters tend to just be where they need to be. They do what they want to do. People die. People don’t die. People have sex for no reason, or people get stabbed in the gut randomly for not having sex. This is one of those stories where it seems the writers thought “oh that would be cool” about several individual scenes and then they wrote a story around that. It works out just fine, but you do feel a little discombobulated by the end.
The sets feel a little light, but I suppose it gives the film that “back lot western” vibe that is charming in its own way. The clothing and bikes all feel very authentic, which is a lot of what makes this feel like a good time. You’re not looking for a good story. You’re looking for a fun one, and the characters have to look the part or you’ll lose the suspension of disbelief.
I judge most good-versus-evil films by how much I hate the big bad by the end of the film, and while nobody in this story is necessarily good, Vinnie Jones is just so incredible at playing a guy you want to hate. At the same time, he’s simultaneously bad and badass, so you hate him, but you love when he’s on screen (especially if you have the same lust for the three Bs that I had at the impressionable age of 18).
When you combine an excellent cast, a script that pays homage to its forebears (which, to be fair, those scripts were usually terrible so this is a step above those), and lots of gratuitous violence and nudity, what you end up with is what The Gent (Michael Madsen) calls a “666cc psycho symphony.” It’s not going to win an Oscar, but it’s definitely a hell of a ride.
- Quentin Tarantino was originally supposed to play Comanche. Eric Balfour was perfect for the part, so not casting Tarantino was probably the best thing that happened to this film (outside of landing Dennis Hopper).
- Speaking of Dennis Hopper, he used his own motorcycle for the film. Leave it to the Easy Rider star to have such a classic piece of machinery.
- Bruce Willis was considered for Pistolero. While I think he would have done very well in the moody portions, he doesn’t have that same exuberance that Larry Bishop exhibits at times.
- The film was shot in twenty days, which means that the two weeks Eric Balfour spent learning to ride a motorcycle almost lasted longer than the film shoot itself.
- The character of The Gent was specifically written for Michael Madsen, who also chose the character’s iconic tuxedo cut.