- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

''Biker Boyz" commits the cardinal sin of any proudly trashy motorcycle flick.
It's dull and no amount of revving engines or hip-hop-style trash talk can disguise that ugly truth.
Worse, it drags respectable actors, including Laurence Fishburne, Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad") and fresh face Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher"), along for the bumpy ride.
Set in the underground world of urban motorcycle clubs, "Biker Boyz" does nothing to establish said world with any credibility. Instead, movie viewers get generic biker klatches, chest-thumping challenges as to who owns the streets and a dash of skin just to keep the mix frothy.
First-time director Reggie Rock Bythewood clearly wants to clone 2001's "The Fast and the Furious." That profitable franchise starter, for all its sundry flaws, throbbed with director Rob Cohen's testosterone-fueled vision.
"Boyz" contains none of that juice.
It does have some recognizable faces, including singer Kid Rock as the head of the Stray Dogs biker gang. What's missing, at the very least, is one slam-bang motorcycle sequence to satiate the film's target audience.
Publicity materials for "Boyz" claim the riders spend their days as lawyers and government workers and in other white-collar positions. On-screen, this intriguing theme is roundly ignored, save one scene in which the chatty Soul Train (Orlando Jones) mentions his legal practice.
"Boyz" begins with the death of Tariq (Eriq La Salle, clearly missing his "ER" scrubs) during a preposterous motorcycle accident. Tariq served as the loyal mechanic for Smoke (Mr. Fishburne), the undisputed lord of the biker's world.
Six months later, Tariq 's son, known as Kid, burns to take Smoke's title. Why? We're not quite sure. He somehow blames Smoke for his father's death, but Smoke loved Kid's dad and had nothing to do with the accident.
Undeterred by common sense, Kid forms his own biker club while preparing to duel with Smoke.
These gangs may talk a good game, but the confrontations are mostly nonviolent. All scores are settled on the road, with the winner getting the loser's "lid," or helmet. It's one of the film's few selling points.
Midway through, "Boyz" throws us a mammoth curve to stoke the rivalry between Kid and Smoke, a revelation better suited to a prime-time soap opera.
Mr. Fishburne doesn't act in the first half of "Boyz." He glowers, jutting his now puffy face forward and letting his tinted sunglasses do the rest. Listening to him spout modern jargon like "aight" instead of "all right" is but a modest reward.
"Burn rubber, not soul," he growls, the bikers' empty mantra.
Young Mr. Luke looks equally adrift, squandering his good notices from "Antwone Fisher."
A preview audience earlier this week tittered at these "Boyz" when it should have been cheering.
A few inadvertent laughs came from a "gang council" sequence, in which the various gang leaders morosely sit around and pass judgment like wizened members of a school board.
A less obvious howler comes when Kid's mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) implores her son never to race again. Minutes later, he is escorting her to what amounts to a bikers cotillion. Dr. Laura would have a field day with such mixed messages.
The races themselves are staged like prize fights, complete with theme music and dueling posses. Mr. Bythewood's hand-held camera work and low-angle photography miss the adrenaline, the very real danger of these contests, held on blocked streets around California.
The story line squeezes in some banal morality lessons toward its climactic race, a last-ditch effort to find its purpose.
"Biker Boyz" indulges our need for speed, but only sparingly. It spends most of its time spinning its wheels with retread takes on loyalty, family ties and the enduring allure of the combustible engine.

*
TITLE: "Biker Boyz"
RATING: PG-13 (Coarse language, vehicular violence, fisticuffs and bikini-clad women)
CREDITS: Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood. Screenplay by Mr. Bythewood and Craig Fernandez
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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