happy birthday, neal!
music friday

by request: biker boyz (reggie rock bythewood, 2003)

Bythewood and his wife, Gina Prince-Bythewood, have done a lot of work on television (most recently with Shots Fired). Prince-Bythewood has a bit more film work, including Beyond the Lights. What I’ve seen of their work is good enough to make me interested in what’s next. Reggie wrote and directed Biker Boyz, Gina was a co-producer.

Biker Boyz has one of those “everyone is in it” casts: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet, Larenz Tate, Terrence Howard, Kid Rock, Meagan Good, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Kadeem Hardison, Eriq La Salle, and more. All of the cast are good, even Kid Rock. But Derek Luke makes the movie worth watching, rising above the clichéd plot to deliver a powerful performance as an 18-year-old with daddy issues.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t up to what Luke offers. Based-on-a-true-story of underground biker gangs (they aren’t the Sons of Anarchy variety) who race each other, trying to be The King of Cali. Think The Fast and the Furious on motorcycles. Two things happen in Biker Boyz: people race motorcycles, and people try to get in touch with their inner selves. The latter is simple boilerplate ... kid’s father dies, King of Cali tries to watch out for him, kid rebels, etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen 100 times before, which means those motorcycle races better be good. But they aren’t. They’re boring. All of them look the same, and because they are short (kind of like drag racing), the individual races don’t leave much room for the buildup of suspense.

Still, Derek Luke is terrific. He’s been around ... his first film was Antwone Fisher, for which he won several awards, and over the past fifteen years he’s been in all sorts of things, some of which I’ve seen ... playing Katie Holmes’ boyfriend in Pieces of April, turning up in a Tyler Perry movie, in the first Captain America movie, and lots more. And he’s been active in television, as well ... among other things, he had a short run in The Americans. So I’ve seen him, but I didn’t recognize him in Biker Boyz. Partly it’s that he was 29 years old when he played the teenager in Biker Boyz, but he looked the right age. So I find it hard to believe that Luke is now 43 years old, and he played an important part in 13 Reasons Why, which a lot of us have obsessed over the year. If I’d seen Biker Boyz in 2003, I’d say “look out for that Derek Luke, he’s good!” Instead, he’s been good all along and I didn’t notice.

Biker Boyz isn’t awful, but there is nothing new, and I could take it or leave it.

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)


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