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'Biker Boyz'

'Biker Boyz' is a wild western with wheelies

Friday, January 31, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

"I don't want a pickle, just wanna ride my motor-sickle."

-- Arlo Guthrie

I was like Arlo, lo those 33 years -- a third of a century -- ago in Kansas. Went out and bought me a used (I mean, "pre-owned") Honda 405, complete with a sidecar. They don't make 'em anymore, for good reason: Look up "death trap" in Webster's, and you'll find a picture of my bike. One summer day in 1970, I took my elderly Aunt Thelmah for a little joyride and nearly killed us both, after which my tearful mother persuaded me to give it up.

 
 
MOVIE REVIEW

'BIKER BOYZ'

RATING: PG-13 for mild language, violence and sexuality

STARRING: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Vanessa Bell Calloway

DIRECTOR: Reggie Rock Bythewood

Critic's call:

   
 

provide this gripping personal preface in order to establish my credentials for reviewing "Biker Boyz," a wheelie western about the wild, wacky world of underground cycle clubs. Its hero, Derek Luke, has a dilemma and a mother not unlike mine -- but there the similarities end.

Mama Anita (Vanessa Bell Calloway) is still understandably upset about the death of her husband, who "went down" on a cycle: "Only two kinds of riders -- those that've gone down and those that're goin' down," she rails, vainly trying to get her son to stop racing and avoid a similar fate. But Luke has issues.

Biggest of those issues comes in the form of Smoke (Laurence Fishburne), the undisputed biker king, who more or less presides over his own and the rival gangs' stunts, scams and contests -- in which Luke's participation is not welcomed. So the kid, together with a few scruffy friends, decides to start and issue a challenge from his own club, the Biker Boyz.

Somebody's gonna get his comeuppance or goindownance.

The macho action -- basically black with an integrated sprinkling of white boys -- is rather exciting in this "sport," which is a cross between buckin' (gas-guzzlin') bronco-riding and the dirty chariot races of "Ben Hur." My favorite thing is the metal plates they put on the soles of their shoes to scrape on the road and make spectacular sparks while cruising at night. I'm gonna get a pair -- no, just one for my left foot -- and try it from the driver's side of the Pontiac.

Director Reggie Rock Bythewood gives us this biker culture and its self-important ritualism as a metaphor for -- what? Affirmative macho action? Bush-Saddam? Cottage cheese? I don't know. The testosterone surplus gets pretty tedious after a while. The women in the film serve no purpose inside (or spilling outside) their bikinis, with the exception of Calloway, who is twice as beautiful as any of the biker chicks.

But never mind. Luke ("Antwone Fisher") and Fishburne ("What's Love Got to Do With It") turn in solid performances -- somehow managing to come off as real characters instead of caricatures. And the makers deserve credit for omitting any gratuitous or excessive violence. In the end, the film and its PG-13 values are rather sweetly gentle -- with a moral that brings us full circle back to Arlo:

"I don't want to die -- just wanna ride my motor-cy."


Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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