In “Biker Boyz,” a sign declaring “No firearms, no ugly chicks, no bullshit allowed” graces the door of the Black Knights’ club. The Black Knights are the biggest, baddest biker club in all of California, or “Cali,” as the bikers refer to the Golden State. Surprisingly, the sign nearly sums up the most interesting aspects of the film. There aren’t any firearms; there aren’t any ugly chicks; and there’s a lot less bullshit than you might expect.
“Biker Boyz” is not a motorcycle version of “The Fast and the Furious” or even “Gone in 60 Seconds.” While the latter films can claim the better titles, “Boyz” is by far the better film.
“Boyz” is a modern Western telling the story of one boy, Kid (Derek Luke), who has grown up in the urban biker world. Following the spectacular freak death of his father, Black Knights’ mechanic Slick Will (Eriq LaSalle), Kid decides to go after the crown of the best in the West, Smoke (Laurence Fishburne), the “King of Cali.”
Kid’s motivation? Kid thinks Smoke, president of the Black Knights, usurped his father’s affections, and Will was less of a man and father because of Smoke. Moreover, Kid clearly thinks Smoke is indirectly responsible for Will’s death. With sidekicks and fellow hustlers Primo (Rick Gonzalez) and Stuntman (Brendan Fehr), Kid starts his own club, the Biker Boyz. They spend the majority of the film raising hell and ignoring the rules of the bike clubs on their quest to end the reign of the Black Knights.
As the comic sidekicks — the film’s Chewbaccas, you might say — Primo and Stuntman ride away with their scenes, and Kadeem Hardison, a handicapped but seriously dangerous former biker, wins the “A Different World” reunion contest with Bonet for the best part. And while Dogg’s (Kid Rock) bark is worse than his bite, the biggest acting draw is Soul Train (Orlando Jones), the Black Knights’ big-mouth muse by night and attorney by day. Jones’ raps are hilarious, and he proves yet again why he is one of the funniest and most recognizable actors on screen today. And guess who used to write for “A Different World?”
When he’s not getting into fights or engaging rival bikers in dangerous races, Kid runs away from his grief and into the arms of Tina (Meagan Good), a well-endowed tattoo artist. Though she initially ignores him, she succumbs to his charms after he woos her with flowers and reveals his emotional side as she tattoos “Burn rubber, not your soul” onto his chest. Like most women in this movie, Tina is nothing more than a two-dimensional love interest and talking pin-up. President of an all-female motorcycle club, Queenie (Lisa Bonet) is the most developed of the biker chicks, and she has a maximum two minutes of dialogue.
The exception to the rule is Kid’s mom, Anita (Vanessa Bell Calloway). She has more brains than anyone else — and some of the best lines. After bailing Kid out of jail for racing on a bridge, Anita rails at her son about the dangers of riding. “Do you know what we call bikers in the ER? Organ donors!” she shouts at him, afraid she will lose her son to the same sport that claimed her husband.
Best of all, Anita gets to reveal the deep dark secret that will turn the story on its boot heels, like the deep dark secret of Star Wars — hint, hint. Unfortunately, in “Boyz”, Anita’s news isn’t quite that stunning. And even in the film, the only one who is surprised is Smoke.
Perhaps the best reason to see “Boyz” is for the visual pleasure of it. Before every race, Smoke gets so focused that he visualizes a tunnel with his victory at the end. After Will’s death, the tunnel turns into a ride thru Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with pictures of the accident fracturing the walls of the tunnel, representing Smoke’s guilt. In the final race between Kid and Smoke, the race that decides who will be King of Cali and who will never race again, Smoke’s tunnel consists entirely of shots of the film’s conflicts.
Other moments of cinematic note include the way the bikes and their riders are filmed. It’s as if director Reggie Rock Bythewood shot a documentary using the camera tricks of “The Matrix.” The camera wheels around the riders and grabs angles that are entrancing, even to film-goers with no particular interest in bikes. The stunts are as meticulously choreographed as a production of “Swan Lake.” According to producers, all of the stunts were real, and the audience can feel it intuitively.
At the same time it successfully captures the vibrant hip-hop-laced Cali biker scene, “Boyz” resurrects the themes of old Westerns, and even pays homage to Westerns at every corner: boots, bandanas, cowboy hats, and helmets decorated with bullet casings. Still, the central story line of the relationship between fathers and sons is straight out of classic literature: Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, and, of course, George Lucas. “Boyz” ends on a more ambiguous, yet positive, note than its predecessors. Somehow the film is smarter than expected, and yet disappointing because the film came so close to realizing its potential.