When I travel from Best Western hotel to Best Western hotel on a Harley-Davidson, I like to bring my own entertainment with me. I load a few movies into the iPad, and then when I get to my room, I’m not bound by what’s on the local television — I’ve got a film festival right there in my hands. And when I’m done with a day of riding, I like to watch motorcycle movies.
There have been some great motorcycle movies over the past 100 years. By motorcycle movies, I mean a movie that features a lead or significant character who rides a motorcycle, and motorcycles are a big part of the scenery and/or plot. For some reason, I’m fascinated by — and attracted to — the worst motorcycle movies.
Why celebrate the worst, and not the best? I don’t know. I just know that there’s a long history in Hollywood of pointing out comically bad achievements. The Razzies (awarded for the past 33 years by the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation), for instance, parallel the Oscars each year, holding a ceremony to hand out awards for “Worst Picture,” “Worst Actress,” Worst Supporting Actor,” and other flattering categories.
Motorcycle movies, like all movies, can vary widely in quality. The best of the best rely on strong characters, a believable, moving story and great motorcycle action. My all-time favorites include “On Any Sunday,” “The Wild Ones,” “Easy Rider,” “Mask” and “Terminator 2.” I’ve seen my share of clunkers, too.
The 21st Century has been a rich trove of bad motorcycle movies — some of them from major studios with big stars, and some of them quickie schlock films. I hold the major films more accountable — they ought to know better. But the truth about Hollywood, to quote William Goldman, is that “Nobody knows anything.”
The fact that the following films have made my list of the “The Five Worst Motorcycle Movies of the 21st Century (So Far)” does not mean that I’m advising you not to watch them. I’m just saying that you’re going to get a different kind of experience watching them. You’ll definitely laugh at, not with, the movies, and you’ll ask yourself the great question: “How did this movie get made, and why?” One of the great unanswerable questions of the age, my friends. Here are a few really bad motorcycle movies to take with you on your next Harley-Davidson adventure from Best Western to Best Western. Enjoy.
5. Ghost Rider (2007) – Poor Nicholas Cage. He’s a great actor – an Academy Award-winner, in fact. And yet, his output over the past decade has been extremely abysmal. Ghost Rider, based on the underground comic book, highlights the worst side of Cage, the over-the-top, hair actor Cage. He plays Johnny Blaze, a stunt motorcyclist who accepts a deal with the devil to become the Ghost Rider, an undead superhero who turns into a burning skeleton and rides his bike to save souls from the devil’s son (or something like that). The movie is a mess, with a ridiculous, impenetrable plot and bad acting from top to bottom. The special effects and motorcycle footage are both cooler (or hot), but can’t rescue this stinker.
4. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) – Johnny Blaze rides again. Why? Because enough of us fools went to see Ghost Rider, and that convinced Hollywood and Nick Cage that there was money left on the table. This time, Johnny finds himself in Eastern Europe (where, not coincidentally, it is much cheaper to film a Hollywood film than it is in the US). A monk, played by the great Idris Elba, convinces Johnny that by saving a boy from the devil, he can be rid of the Ghost Rider forever. More bad acting, ridiculous plot twists, and CGI galore. So bad that it may have finally put the Ghost Rider franchise to rest. We can only hope.
3. Biker Boyz (2003) – I had high hopes for this one, to be honest with you. It’s set in a different part of the motorcycling world than the usual bike movie. The main characters are African-American men, members of a Southern California motorcycle club. Laurence Fishburne, a legitimate motorcyclist in real life, plays Smoke, the president of the club, and Derek Luke, so great in Antwone Fisher (2002) and Friday Night Lights (2004), plays Kid, the up-and-coming rider who challenges Smoke for preeminence in the Fresno motorcycle drag races. Cool stunts, cool riding scenes — boring, dour, predictable plot with bad dialog and leaden pacing. Fast forward through the plot and just watch the riding scenes.
2. Torque (2004) – I don’t know how you feel about “The Fast and the Furious” franchise of movies. I find them amusing at best; tedious at worst. Torque was produced by Neal H. Moritz, the same big brain behind the F&F films, and Torque could easily be described as “The Fast and the Furious on two wheels.” The formula is very similar — our hero finds himself mixed up with some very bad people, and he’s forced to band together with an underground crew of sportbike stunt riders in order to avoid being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. The plot is just silly, but the bike riding is stylish and the action is furious. Turn off brain; watch fast bikes.
1. Wild Hogs (2007) – This is not just a bad motorcycle movie; this is one of the worst movies to come out of a major studio, ever. Tim Allen, John Travolta, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence play four middle aged friends who decide to take their Harley-Davidsons out on a road trip, looking for adventure. The mild riders find themselves in the midst of a battle with an actual motorcycle gang, the Del Fuegos, and discover new depths. This is billed as a comedy, but it’s not funny. The humor is badly executed, on a Three Stooges level. Travolta’s character takes a crow in the face while riding down the highway — hilarious, right? Not. Macy’s character can barely control his bike, and wrecks constantly. Hilarious, right? Not. It took me multiple sittings to get through this entire film — it was so bad, I had to find out how it ended. Terribly and predictably, that’s how. You know what that means — they’re talking about a sequel right now. Wild Hogs 2 — the next contender for Worst Movie of the 21st Century (So Far).