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Were Joseph Kahn’s wrong turns on “Torque” actually right?

Were Joseph Kahn’s wrong turns on “Torque” actually right? (photo)

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The weekly film review podcast The /Filmcast features three regular hosts, David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, Adam Quigley, and a guest host that changes each week. Typically, those guests are critics — both Alison and I have appeared on past episodes — but the show has also featured appearances by directors, including Kevin Smith and Rian Johnson, amongst others. Last week’s guest was music video and commercial director Joseph Kahn, who came on to review the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and, during the show’s “After Dark” segment, defend his lone feature film, the divisive motorcycle action spectacular “Torque.”

The film, which stars Martin Henderson, Ice Cube, and Monet Mazur was released in 2004 to mostly poor reviews (Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 23%), worse box office (Domestic Gross: $21.2 million), and a few ardent supporters. Loudest amongst “Torque” partisans was Armond White who, in his typically contrarian New York Press review of the film called it “a B-movie in the Xbox era…an exhilarating combination of Pop and Art.” He even went so far as to compare the “Torque” experience to “big-screen ecstasy,” though he spelled the word as “ecstacy,” so maybe he means something other than what I think he means.

I saw “Torque” in theaters back in 2004 and at the time found it to be a shamelessly goofy retread of “The Fast and The Furious” from “TFatF” producer Neal H. Moritz. Which is why I was particular intrigued by Kahn’s defense of the film, which is, in essence, that it was a shamelessly goofy retread of “The Fast and the Furious” by design. As Kahn explained on The /Filmcast, “I wanted to do [with] “Fast & Furious” movies what “Evil Dead II” did with horror films: do a piss-take version of it…These are stupid-ass movies. What if I made one that was really fucking stupid?”

05122010_torque3.jpgAs defenses of films go, Kahn’s is borderline genius, because it automatically excuses any flaw the film might — and definitely does — have. When Henderson’s Cary Ford fights two meatheads, loses his weapon in one shot, then magically has it back in his hand in the next, it’s not bad editing; it’s a wry commentary on bad editing. When Ford leaps on a souped-up bike, and sunglasses appear on his face out of nowhere, it’s not a continuity gaffe; it’s a wry commentary on continuity gaffes. When bad guy Henry James (Matt Schulze) talks in an intense angry whisper even though he’s in the middle of a raging dance club, it’s not a dumb acting choice; it’s a wry commentary on dumb acting choices. And so on.

The defense is genius; I’m just not sure most of “Torque” is. As Kahn acknowledges, while he intended the film to be a parody of “The Fast and the Furious,” Moritz and the rest of the producers and executives didn’t necessarily agree with him. “The person that [hired] me got fired a week before the movie came in,” Kahn told The /Filmcast, “and literally a week before the movie got made, the script got rewritten… the reality of the [film] is it was my intention slamming right up against what the studio wanted, which was essentially a cheap ‘Fast & Furious’ knockoff.”

05122010_torque.jpgThe friction is evident in the movie. “Torque” does have a few clever sequences, but before the genuinely insane (and genuinely hilarious) finale — which includes a very memorable sequence where two women fight not only on their bikes, but with their bikes as well — it often looks more like the “Fast & Furious” knockoff Warner Bros. wanted than the parody Kahn wanted. On the “Torque” DVD commentary, screenwriter Matt Johnson makes it clear he didn’t write a comedy; he describes the film as a spaghetti western on motorcycles, and even goes so far as to compare Henderson’s character to Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name (I guess because both guys have brown hair and need a shave). And despite Kahn’s I-meant-to-do-that attitude, most of the film’s Cro-Magnon macho posturing — and “Torque” is at least 64% Cro-Magnon macho posturing — reads more as sincerity than sendup.

Still, Kahn’s candid comments do increase “Torque”‘s rewatch value, if only as a example of what happens when director and studio collide on-screen (which is particularly appropriate, since the other 36% of “Torque” is things colliding on-screen). As Kahn put it, “The guy who made ‘Torque’ was an angry dude who just wanted to fuck the studio on a certain level.” He fucked with audiences too, which is as good an explanation as any why they mostly hated the movie. Most parodies cater to the people who know and love the movies their spoofing; “Young Frankenstein” isn’t an argument against Universal Horror, it’s a celebration of what makes those movies fun. “Torque,” on the other hand, doesn’t just mock “The Fast and the Furious” conventions. By disguising itself so thoroughly as an imitator of the film, it also mocks anyone dumb enough to want to see it.

[Photos: “Torque,” Warner Bros., 2004.]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.