Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) is head rider with The Black Knights and the undisputed king of the illegal bike racers who burn rubber on the streets of L.A. He is undefeated in 203 starts but there’s a new Kid on the block who’s just another face in the crowd until his father is killed in a joust with Smoke. The Kid (Derek Luke) tries to mount a challenge to Smoke but is hindered by the unwritten rules of bikie lore and his mother’s insistence that he give up racing. By forming his own gang of rough riders, The Bikie Boyz, The Kid fast-tracks a full-throttle showdown with Smoke in which only one can lay claim to the loser’s “lid” (helmet).
Review by Keith Lofthouse
It begins with the sounds of roaring engines and the billowing smoke of tortured rubber. Instantly you know that this is a two wheel hybrid of The Fast And The Furious, except that it’s scaled down by about 3000 revs on both counts. Inspired by an article in a now defunct newspaper that delved deep into the world of African-American motorcycle clubs, Biker Boyz is packaged as a sort of urban western in which sleek bikes fill in for slick horses; street races are proxies for bar-room brawls and shoot-outs and, as payback for black slavers and dead Indians, the only bad guys are white guys. The gratuitous Bikini Bike Wash, of course, has no such equivalent in any self-respecting horse opera unless one imagines that the buxom babes on display are the kind who can be easily taken for a ride. Although grounded in realism, nothing seems quite so unreal. Audiences conditioned to the language of the streets might think the mealy-mouthed script is an anaemic anachronism tapped out by a hack from Home Beautiful and may regard the transparent “secret” revealed midway through the film to light the fire between Smoke and the young sparkler as pure fiction. As the illegal racers test mettle and stress metal, busy L.A. bridges and motorways miraculously become no-go zones for police and citizens. Smoke (who better than Fishburne to play a man called Smoke?) and his cronies compete for side wagers of between $500 and $5000 and yet have no visible means of support … The gleaming machines will dazzle the “leather and lids” set but on the roads the bikes are shot at such oblique angles that it’s difficult to tell who’s riding which. Bythewood, in fact, makes such a complete botch of the action scenes that in the climactic race, no-one - I repeat, no-one - is seen standing at the finish and no-one is biting their nails. Even the dance scenes, to a few dirge-like songs, are limp and languid and might cause you to wonder whether black men really do have rhythm. Fishburne and Luke (who won swift acclaim for his role in Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher) play their roles with a mixture of attitude, swagger, bluff and braggadocio which is all the emoting required. Those expecting something fast and furious should think flimsy and frivolous.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
If you love motorbikes, Biker Boyz probably has enough chrome and revs to satisfy but if you're looking for satisfying human drama you'll be disappointed. Take away the presence of Laurence Fishburne as the god-like king of the street racing scene (Morpheus in leather, anyone?) and this is not much more than a 70s B-movie with nitrous oxide added to the fuel tanks of the big hogs ridden by these attitude-plus beefcakes and bikie chicks. The first studio feature by the intriguingly-named Reggie Rock Bythewood is described as a western on wheels and the claim is more or less justified as the simple story of an ambitious young rider who wishes to topple the territory's top gun plays out. It also has the elements of clumsily written Greek tragedy in the second half as our fearless young hero Kid discovers family secrets that make his quest even more personal. Marred by an unusually muddy soundtrack and bolstered by a number of exciting race sequences, Biker Boyz is a mildly interesting journey into predominantly black motorcycle culture in L.A. It has enough hot leather and black flesh to drive a KKK Wizard crazy, though it plays it safe with its depiction of clubs that exist firmly on the recreational side of biker life. There are no Hells Angels-style outlaw crews here and most of the inter-club conflicts are settled on the streets rather than with fists. Palatable enough for mainstream audiences, it rolls through perfunctory father-son and mother-son conflicts as the hot-headed upstart forms his own posse that looks rather silly in bright yellow outfits and is hard to take seriously when you spot a couple of ridiculous four-wheel motorbikes at the rear of its pack. Still, the screenplay is based on an in-depth article written by journalist Michael Gougis, so we have to believe that such sub-Banana Splits mechanical monstrosities are legit in this particular scene. Despite the earnest performances of Fishburne, Luke, Orlando Jones as Fishburne's main man/sidekick, Vannessa Bell Calloway as Kid's mum and the perpetually underused Lisa Bonet as Fishburne's squeeze, there isn't a lot on offer here for anyone not already converted to the two-wheeled cause. The lumbering drama is built on a series of dumb lies and the script isn't sure if the central story belongs to the veteran or the newcomer, leaving only the machines in sharp focus and Kid's tattoo artist girlfriend Tina (Meagan Wood) riding on the bitch bar while not cheering from the sidelines.
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BIKER BOYZ (M)
CAST: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Larenz Tate, Meagan Good, Tyson Beckford, Dion Basco and Dante Basco
PRODUCER: Stephanie Allain, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Erwin Stoff
DIRECTOR: Reggie Rock Bythewood
SCRIPT: Craig Fernandez, Reggie Rock Bythewood (article by Michael Gougis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greg Gardiner
EDITOR: Caroline Ross, Terilyn A. Shropshire
MUSIC: Camara Kambon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cecilia Montiel
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 24, 2003
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 11, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: November 19, 2003