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I love the smell of testosterone in the morning…

With the relatively surprising box-office success of The Fast and the Furious a couple of years back, studios woke up to the fact that a lot of that cinema cash came from the wallets of young males, expendable income at the ready and macho urges to appease. Throw in such cinematic gems such as xXx and (gulp) 2 Fast 2 Furious and you’ve got a nice little collection of dubious yet somehow profitable action flicks which appeal to the every day bloke out there who likes cars, women and anything powerful in between. That’s a big demographic, too, so it’s not wonder there is now a glut of wannabe blockbusters lining up to get their share of the cash.

Torque is the latest attempt at balancing slick action sequences with a serviceable plot and some eye candy to boot. Thanks to the Fast and the Furious legacy the motor racing angle is still there. In fact, one could almost smell the petroleum wafting out of the cinema screen, together with cheap ladies perfume and burnt rubber. But while there’s obviously nothing high-brow about the entertainment, no one in their right mind would have expected anything else.

Not surprisingly we jump head first into the action, where we meet a cool tough guy named Ford (get it?) who seems to have been in a little trouble with the authorities after stumbling upon a biker’s stash of drugs, hidden in some motorcycles, no less. After fleeing overseas he returns home hoping that everything’s just blown over. On the contrary, as Ford’s enemies still haven’t forgotten that those bikes exist, while his typically tough as nails girlfriend hasn’t forgiven him for nicking off and leaving her to deal with the mess he left behind.

The paper thing plot attempts to get a little tricky when another hard-nosed gang leader (played by Ice Cube, the only recognisable name among the cast) becomes involved after it is revealed his brother was murdered by one of Ford’s associates. Trouble is, Ford was somehow framed up for that, too, meaning he’s got just about every biker on his tail for some reason or another, not to mention the feds. Sound enticing? Probably not, but at least it’s a platform for some high octane motorbike action.

One thing is a complete given, though, and that’s the fact that the characters can’t just ride around really fast all day long. They at least need to eat and communicate. Either that or they simply run out of petrol. Which leads to the ever-so-deftly-handled dialogue scenes, which smell like they were written by Ice Cube while watching a BMX Bandits/Driven double-header. But the audience only wants to get their adrenalin pumping, so it’s not long before we dive headlong into another fist fight or motorbike chase. These scenes play out like a music video on steroids (complete with a typically heavy soundtrack), mixing up a cocktail of everything masochistic throughout. The girls aren’t wearing much, the blokes only care about their machines and looking good, and the fights are accompanied by some pretty cheesy insults and retorts.

While every film can’t be the ultimate in intellectual stimulation, one wonders how top level executives can see the appeal of such a simplistic, mindless action film which can’t even get the basics right. Save for an ambitious chase sequence on a moving train (with some accomplished camera work, admittedly), even the supposed “adrenalin-pumping” moments in the film aren’t all that exciting. The CGI is average at best and most of the time completely unnecessary, while the storyline is so run-of-the-mill you’d be forgiven for thinking this was made back in the 80s. The Fast and the Furious wasn’t the most impressive film going around but at least it had some charisma and a slick-looking construction. Torque makes that film seem like an Oscar winner in comparison. Surely there’s better material around than this, and audiences should vote with their feet and their wallets to ensure something much more decent hits our screens instead. Popcorn movie it may be, but you can get much more creative than this.

Visuals are, of course, basically the crux of the whole film. Without a good looking frame the film goes nowhere, which is why we’ve been given the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 for this release. Colours are intentionally pumped up to almost bleeding level, but thankfully they look pretty good even though they tend to lose a little of their sharpness as a result. Overall sharpness is impressive save for some isolated shots here and there which seem to come out softer than others.

Grain is inconsistent but never really distracting, noticeable more in the exterior scenes over the harsher landscapes than anything else. Black levels are fine, with all the night scenes coming out exceptionally well overall. On the whole there’s still a lot to like about the look of the film on DVD despite some little imperfections here and there. Those who like their colours loud and strong will love this, even though they might not get all that excited about the actual film.

Naturally, this is the kind of film where audio engineers go all out in the mixing stage, creating a 5.1 mix that might not sound entirely realistic but still blows your mind when it comes to shifting all manner of effects and music around your setup. Torque’s mix is no exception, with everything from explosions to screeching tyres to police sirens bursting out of the rears to really put you in the middle of the action.

Dialogue shifts around the front stage very well, and thankfully isn’t engulfed by music of effects all that much. There are times when words are hard to hear but, let’s face it, there’s little value in listening to what any of them have to say once you know the outline of the plot.

The music consists of your typical hard rock tracks when things get heated up to a subtle little score underneath most of the other action. There’s rarely a moment when there’s not some sort of musical element in the background, possibly to help keep you interested in the more dull moments in the film. It’s like they just got the work experience kid to play his favourite rock mix CD and flick up the volume nob any time someone got on a motorbike. Still, it works on the whole.

A small collection of extras has been put together to add some weight to the disc, starting with an actor commentary with no less than participants, including director Joseph Kahn. Present are basically all the main cast members, who must have had it written into their contracts that they record a commentary for the DVD (in exchange for giving them an acting gig for once, one suggests). We hear from Martin Henderson, Will Yun Lee, Monet Mazur, Jay Hernandez, Adam Scott, Matt Shulze, Fredro Starr, Justina Machado and Dane Cook throughout. With so many participants it is a surprise that there’s no subtitle track to signify the speaker at any given moment, but ultimately matters little. The group have some fun together picking on little things and the whole film in general, which makes it a fun track because none of it is really taken seriously. When you hear these guys add their bits you kind of take it a little easier on the film, which might be bad but they know there’s very little to it.

The other commentary track included on the disc is the technical commentary with Joseph Kahn again, writer Matt Johnson, cinematographer Peter Levy, visual effects supervisor Eric Durst, sound editor Tim Gedemer, second unit director (why?) Gary Davis, picture editor David Blackburn and production designer Peter Hampton. That’s another large group but each of them puts their bit in and sits tight until called upon again so you don’t become overwhelmed by all the technical aspects all at once. Probably not the best technical showcase but there’s still some value there for those interested in any of these aspects of production.

With the guts of the extras out of the way we get to the filler material. First up are two animatics, from one of the racing scenes as well as the train sequence. Guided by commentary from Kahn we see the storyboard and the final outcome in the frame side by side. With the train sequence we also see a rough animation which bridges the gap between the storyboard and the fully-loaded, CGI completed final product.

Rounding out the collection, we have a music video from Youngbloodz entitled Lean Low. The music is hideous but there are some clips from the film thrown in among footage of the rappers doing their ‘thang. Also included is the theatrical trailer, which is as laughable now as it was during it’s run before much better films in cinemas.

Granted, you can’t always expect so much out of a mainstream action flick, but this is just a cop out for filmmakers to accept some really average stories and deliver them in an average way. Creativity flies out the window, with most of the action completely derived from more successful earlier films as studios just try and ride on the back of a sub-genre’s success. In this case Torque fits right in, combining a terrible script with some good looking but ultimately run-of-the-mill action sequences that aren’t really all that exciting. The disc itself is good, with a decent transfer, some creative use of the soundtrack and a few extras to keep you happy, but in the end it’s the quality of the film that should dictate whether you shell out your hard-earned. Enough said.