Saturday, January 17, 2004

Torque in cheek...

The villain of the new motorcycle movie Torque is named Henry James. Did the filmmakers mean to name their antagonist after one of America's most famous novelists? Or was it just a weird coincidence?

One things for sure. No movie critic who caught the (in)advertant literary allusion could pass up the chance to make a joke about it in her review.

Without further preamble, we present to you:

REVIEWS OF MOVIE REVIEWERS' JOKES ABOUT HENRY JAMES AND TORQUE
(RATED OUT OF FOUR STARS)


The villain of the piece, that rival biker, is named Henry James. Characters repeatedly refer to him by name: 'We'll set a trap for Henry James.' And yet there's never the remotest inkling that this name has ever belonged to anyone else. - Marc Mohan, the Oregonian

Mohan does not mention to whom the name previously belonged, thus making connaisseurs of literature feel proud of themselves for getting the joke, and simultaneously sending the rest of readers to search for the name on Google, abashed at their ignorance. Makes some people feel smart and others feel dumb! The mark of a good reviewer. **

Ford has been on a trip to Thailand, enforced after he incurred the wrath of Hellions leader Henry James (an inadvertent literary allusion, surely, or else Shane [the heroine]should have been named Emily Dickinson). - Susan Walker, Toronto Star.

Not bad, but not particularly funny. Edith Wharton would have been a better choice for this gag. Better yet Gertrude Stein, because the image of her and Alice B. Toklas riding a hog is both funny and fitting. **

Torque n. the film that features a villain named Henry James, conjuring the tantalizing image of Edith Wharton riding shotgun wearing a "Fear This" tattoo and a Ramones T-shirt. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post.

Brilliant! An actual, full-on joke. Wharton fuckin' rocks! ****

The hero is a hunk named Ford (Martin Henderson), and he's just back from Thailand, where he's been hiding for the past six months from the racist, redneck kingpin (Matt Schulze), the one with the mullet, the gang of goons, and the pierced and predatory girlfriend (Jaime Pressly) called China. His name, unbelievably enough, is Henry James -- although Schulze calls to mind only the slightly less literary Henry Rollins. - Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

Mr. Morris is referencing the hardcore lead singer of Black Flag and the Rollins Band, who is also a spoken word artist. I had to look "Henry Rollins" up on Google to get it. I am abashed at my ignorance! I'm feel so stupid... But now, the next time I am out with friends, I will name-drop Henry Rollins and when I get blank stares I'll say, "The punk poet. You've never heard of him? Reeeally..." ***

He's being stalked by the menacing motorcycle gang leader Henry James (Matt Schulze), who's so important a crime figure that even his grim whispers can be heard over the live thrash being played at a nightclub. Apparently when not finishing a screenplay adaptation of his novel 'The Tragic Muse' or working with Ismail Merchant, Henry runs a lucrative crystal meth business whose profits are threatened because Ford has possession of Henry's drugs. - Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times.

Wow! Trust the New York Times to really work this Henry James thing. Mitchell demonstrates his superb intelligence by mentioning an actual work by James and throwing in a reference to the producer of literary-works-turned-into-movies like A Room with a View, The Remains of the Day and The Bostonians (an adaptation of a Henry James novel) for good measure. I haven't felt this dumb while reading a movie review in years! ****

That somebody is Henry James, played by Matt Schulze of "Fast and Furious." Not only is this evil dude named after a famous British novelist, but he is also guilty of murder, framing, drug-running and having both an equally evil girlfriend (Jaime Pressly as China) and an apparent Kiefer Sutherland sneer complex. - Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune.

Poor Mr. Wilmington. He thought he was being smart. *

In his new movie, actor-rapper Ice Cube gets to play Henry James. No, not the brooding aesthete who wrote Daisy Miller and proclaimed, 'It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.' Cube's James is a 'playa,' a motorcycle gang banger who rebuffs a white Southern visitor by snarling, 'I didn't invite yo' Dukes of Hazzard ass.'- Stephen Cole, The Globe and Mail.

Ouch! While misidentifying Henry James as British, instead of American is perhaps excusable from a movie reviewer, the misidentification of one of Torque's main characters is not. Ice Cube played a character called Trey, the leader of a motorcycle gang called the Reapers. It was Matt Schulze who was played Henry James. Cole should spent as much time watching the movie as he did looking up James in Bartlett's Quotations. No stars.

Post-script

One more: "First-time screenwriter Matt Johnson is a lone holdout in an irony-drenched age, refusing for even a meta-moment to acknowledge that his villain is named after a great American novelist. You'd expect a 'Well, you're a real
portrait of a lady,' but you won't even get that." -- Me in the National Post.

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