It’s January, and we know what that means. Now is the time of year when studios release their post-holiday bait “B” fare with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of their releases might click well with audiences not intent on seeing every movie with Oscar buzz. We’ve already witnessed success reach out to such forgettable films as “Just Married,” “Kangaroo Jack” and “Darkness Falls,” as all three landed at No. 1 in their opening weekends. And now, on the final day before we ring in a new month, we have Reggie Rock Bythewood’s “Fast and the Furious”-esque “Biker Boyz,” a Western on wheels sure to attract an audience looking for high-octane racing scenes built up with a trendy hip-hop soundtrack.
Bythewood and fellow screenwriter Craig Fernandez set the film in Southern California where street racing is not merely a hobby, but a way of life. Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) is the fastest biker out there and leads the most respected gang around, the Black Knights. The tragic death of his best friend and miraculous mechanic, Slick (Eriq La Salle), leaves the entire community in despair, particularly Slick’s son, Kid (Derek Luke).
After spending six weeks away from the bike scene, Kid makes a dazzling return by showing his prowess on the motorcycle as opposed to working on one like his father. Determined to become the best there is, he challenges the respect and ethics of the whole operation while ruffling quite a few feathers on the way, mainly those of Smoke. What ensues is essentially a Western on bikes; instead of who’s the quickest with their guns, the question is who’s the fastest on their bike.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was on the ground laughing when I first saw the trailer for “Biker Boyz.” Laurence Fishburne? Kid Rock? Derek Luke? In a movie about the cutting-edge life of illegal back-alley motorcycle racing? And the title: was the substitution of a “z” for an “s” in “Boyz” supposed to make me think that this was going to be one bad, bad film?
However, “Biker Boyz” can be a fun movie if you’re willing to accept it for what it is: a predictable yet innocent story about motorcycle gangs out west. The first love scene occurs when Kid puts the moves on Tina (Meagan Good) while she inscribes a tattoo into his chest. Later we’re thrown a dramatic curveball which results in an unnecessary barroom brawl.
But for all its flaws, there are some entertaining race scenes and even a few moments where Bythewood takes a step back and essentially laughs with his own film.
Probably the aspect that most separates “Biker Boyz” from “The Fast and the Furious” is the quality of the cast. Everyone, especially Fishburne, noticeably accepts what kind of picture they’re making and always seems to be having a good time on the set. I hate to repeat what many critics say about films with large ensembles, but “Biker Boyz” really is the kind of movie you can just tell was a blast to make. My thoughts were backed up by the three cast members (Luke, Gonzalez and Fehr) who were all enthusiastic about the six weeks they spent making the film.
To put it bluntly, “Biker Boyz” is an entertaining movie delivering a sincere message about respect and responsibility. Though it contains some substantial flaws, it never makes the mistake of trying to blend in with all the Oscar-buzzed films out there. Grade: C+