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Review: "The Bikeriders"

Bikers are badasses.  At least, that’s the way they are depicted in the movies.

The tradition dates all the way back to movies like The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando way back in 1953. It’s a classic movie, that cashes in on rebelliousness and raw emotion, and the fresh new method acting style that was all the rage in the Hollywood of the Fifties.  It was one of the movies that put a young Marlon Brando on the map.

Over the years, Hollywood never stopped making biker flicks.  There were a lot of trashy, low-budget ones, and occasionally a cult classic like Easy Rider (1968) with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. 

Motorcycles are a metaphor for freedom.  The roaring engines are an invitation to adventure and escapism on the open road. 

And so, maybe it was time to roll out another ode to the genre of motorcycle movies.  In the case of TheBikeriders, it’s a movie that references both The Wild One and Easy Rider in a story loosely based on the formation of a motorcycle club in the Sixties and Seventies.

The trailers seemed to suggest a gritty, hard-hitting tale of disenfranchised young men who bond on the basis of their nonconformity.  They are outcasts whose common identity is written across the backs of their black leather motorcycle jackets.  They ride, fight, drink a lot of beer and smoke a lot of cigarettes.  And they don’t take crap from anyone, particularly anyone who dares to make the mistake of asking them to take off their colors.

That scene is how The Bikeriders opens, when we meet our hero (or anti-hero) Benny (Austin Butler) sitting at a bar, drinking alone.  Two thugs arrive, and when they demand that he remove his motorcycle club jacket, things quickly de-escalate into a stool-smashing bar fight that ends outside, minutes later, in a dramatic freeze frame, just before Benny is knocked unconscious with a shovel.

His encounter is recalled by his former wife Kathy (Jody Comer) who becomes the narrator of the story which is being tape recorded by a photography student who hopes to compile a photo book of Benny and his buddies, supplemented by interviews and anecdotes.  Based on the opening scene, it promises to be a pretty nitty-gritty, adrenaline-charged ride.

Sadly, that’s not what transpires.  The Bikeriders quickly bogs down into a boring string of events that possibly looked good on paper but never really translated into the kind of story that audiences might have expected. 

Remarkably, nothing much really happens.  There is riding and drinking and fighting, but no real overriding narrative.  Essentially, it’s a lot of angst surrounding the question of who will become the leader of the pack, once the current gang leader, Johnny (Tom Hardy) decides to step down.

Tom Hardy has made a career out of playing silent-but-strong tough guys. The Bikeriders is no exception.  What his performance is lacking is substantive dialog.

Austin Butler seems to be relying on his Elvis retro-good-looks and an acting approach that leans heavily on appearing to be brooding, tortured and introspective.

He’s mysterious and explosively aggressive at times in what seems to be an attempt to channel Marlon Brando’s screen persona.  It’s a mix of facial expressions and monosyllabic, muttered lines meant to underscore his masculinity and toughness.

Jodie Comer seems completely miscast as the blue-collar girl friend who falls head over heels in love with Benny.  She seems to struggle with the regional dialect and never seems to stray from picture perfect prettiness, even after having been brutally assaulted by several scary bikers at a rowdy party gone bad.

All in all, The Bikeriders is a movie with all the ingredients for a rip-roaring ride that for the most part, runs off the road into a barren landscape of sheer boredom.

Rather than a main story arc, what we have instead are a half dozen sub-plots with a half dozen characters that essentially goes nowhere.



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