Sunday, July 21, 2024

Review: Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer Can’t Fire Up “The Bikeriders”


Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders” was supposed to come out last year. It was delayed, moved, and then shoved into an opening for this weekend. I went tonight to see finally what was going on since screenings were hard to secure and the premiere was last minute in Los Angeles.

Now, however, I know what’s been going on.

“The Bikeriders” is beautiful and stylish, with some jarring performances that could have been sizzling. But it’s nothing, it dies halfway into its premise. The movie feels like an uncooked omelet. It’s a first act, third act, and nothing in between.

These were real motorcycle gangs in Chicago from 1966 to 1973. We know the years because a TV show like “Bewitched” or “Marcus Welby MD” is playing in the background. Austin Butler and Tom Hardy play James Dean and Marlon Brando not so much as Hell’s Angels, but the last cowboys in the Wild West. Jodie Comer is the wise cracking good girl in their midst. But for some reason Comer looks and sounds like Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin.

Butler’s Benny: you think he’s going to be a hero, or Tony from “West Side Story.” Lanky and coiffed, brooding for no reason, Benny is described upfront as not being able to avoid crashes. He’s also not too bright, and is easily beaten up. Hardy plays Johnny, the gang leader, in what is easily the best performance in the film. He’s violent but has a heart. He’s no genius, but you sense that he knows more than hes letting on.

The rest of the gang includes Michael Shannon in a small role, although he has the best moment. I really liked Boyd Holbrook, who doesn’t look like he’s supposed to be there. It’s revealed that’s correct when Norman Reedus — looking very “Walking Dead” — shows up out of nowhere. Reedus is so electric that he gives his scenes a much needed jolt.

And then there’s Jodie Comer, recalling all these events to Mike Faist, playing a journalist with a big microphone attached to a reel-to-reel tape recorder. (It’s the kind Mr. Phelps has on “Mission Impossible.”) Comer is so engaging as Kathy, The Good Girl who gets mixed up in all the trouble. But again, I could not shake the idea that she was Tina Fey dropped in from another film.

But what is the purpose of all this? Will new generation bikers — criminals, more violent, not warm and fuzzy — supplant this dying gang? Probably. Nichols presents this as a foregone conclusion. Because there is little character development, and no secondary plotting, the movie has nowhere to go except into its finale. The old vs. new thugs’ face off is telegraphed so quickly, i was actually thinking, Hey wait, slow down, the end is coming and we barely know these people. Plus, the main characters — the ones we’re invested in — are dispatched very quickly. Benny, for example, disappears for quite a bit of time. Where does he go? We don’t know, no one tells us, including him when he returns.

“The Bikeriders” does get high marks for cinematography, lighting, and editing. It looks great. It often has a Tarantino-esque feel, but whenever the momentum builds in that direction, it fizzles quickly. I don’t know what Nichols was aiming for here– an homage? a send up? He gets frustratingly close to something that could be smart and clever, then backs away nervously.

Hey– I paid $12. I wanted to like “The Bikeriders” a lot. I was in fairly good sized audience, too, but I could feel them pull away, too, when they realized nothing satisfying was going to happen. “The Bikeriders” is a real disappointment because it’s a missed opportunity.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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