In 2004, Fast & Furious was barely even a franchise. While the first movie, about a cop who infiltrates a street racing gang, was a hit at the box office, nobody could have predicted where the saga would eventually lead. And although 2 Fast 2 Furious helped establish a unique approach to sequel titles (and added Ludacris to the family), it was a critical flop that didn’t even feature Vin Diesel.
In other words, in the early 2000s, the road to franchise domination for a movie series about cool dudes and their super-fast vehicles was wide open. Enter: Torque.
Joseph Kahn's action-spectacle debut is a thunderous motocross response to the Fast & Furious universe. Mr. Kahn himself described Torque as a "piss take" version of the Fast movies (only two were released before Torque hit theaters in 2004). There are countless instances where Torque flips a finger to the now mega-successful Vin Diesel franchise, but lovingly, like a noogie from your older sibling. Neal H. Moritz serves as producer on both Torque and the Fast series, so you can assume he was trying to manufacture competition between zooming properties. Torque desperately wants to be the antidote to Dominic Toretto's overserious vehicular saga, bringing that Fast Five vibe seven years before the Fast films would reach their full potential by embracing pure insanity.
The very introduction to Torque is a spoof on annoying street racers, complete with quick-cut gear shifts, nitrous oxide boosters, and spinning road signs that read "Cars Suck" like a Looney Tunes gag. Matt Johnson's screenplay openly mocks all things fast and furious with the subtlety of a Hulk smash, straight-up recycling quotable dialogue. “That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard,” snaps Monet Mazur's Shane after Cary Ford (played by Martin Henderson) recites Dom's iconic "quarter mile at a time" mantra word for word. No tact, full-on beef. I don't think I've ever seen a mainstream release try to bury another franchise any harder.
Kahn's rubber-burning action romp thrives on 2000s attitudes influenced by a lifetime supply of Mountain Dew. Conflicts feel torn from discarded Fast pages, complete with shady law enforcement, rival gangs, and unlikely allies. Ford has to restore his reputation by delivering both stolen crystal meth and crucial murder evidence to FBI Agent Jay McPherson (Adam Scott) while also avoiding an Inglewood biker gang known as The Reapers because leader Trey Wallace (Ice Cube) thinks Ford murdered his brother. Oh, there's also The Hellions and their racist-as-hell leader Henry James (Matt Schulze) who wants his crystal meth back from Ford. More plot lines are crossed than in a later-stage Fast sequel, with the same excitement and action choreography that treats vehicles like extensions of bodies. (Fun fact: Schulze played Vince in The Fast and the Furious and once more in Fast Five. In case you needed yet another connection.)
Everything about Torque feels cheekily borrowed from the Fast series, before and beyond 2004. Dom's barbeques always have sweaty Corona bottles, while Cary's crew constantly flashes Budweiser labels toward the camera. Tej and Roman fly a car into space, while Cary and Henry rocket through Los Angeles breaking the sound barrier in a purposely unrealistic scene out of a video game. The way Trey flips from enemy to ally mirrors how quickly Fast characters switch sides, amassing a core ensemble who all share a need for speed.
The most significant difference is how Torque starts in overdrive, where it takes the Fast franchise five entries to proudly flaunt its self-awareness. There was a stark contrast between Torque and its sibling franchise at the time of release (not so much anymore).
While Torque didn't receive the same acclaim or success as Dom's crew, it's still a gloriously ridiculous blast of 2000s action blurs while atop speeding motorbikes. Plenty of that is thanks to Kahn's direction, which was heavily influenced by his prolific music video career. Kahn loves playing with visual excitement and pushes overly stylized, almost cartoonish qualities on the audience, but he does so with no shortage of confidence. That's both a blessing and a curse, since Torque received no sequels but did amass a cult following. The Fast movies laid a foundation built on family values where Torque goes zero to six hundred without warning. Coupled with Kahn's frantically kinetic shooting style — think handheld cameras for first-person kickstand shots or "go big" music video spectacularity — it can be an overload. Torque was ahead of its time despite being so extremely early 2000s, which spelled doom at the box office (grossing $46 million worldwide on a reported $40 million budget).
Any description of Torque is like something Bill Hader's Stefon would describe during an SNL sketch. "This year's hottest action film has it all: motorcycle jousting duels, filthy leather-clad bikers doing weird tongue movements, 80s rock band t-shirts, a Dane Cook cameo, and the soundtrack 2000s so hard Nickelback's ‘Someday’ scores the film’s epic outro (after needle drops from Kid Rock, Hoobastank, and more 2000s staples).” Through it all, Kahn's hyperdrive energy and the movie's cast — including Adam Scott in a rare good-guy-turned-bad-boy performance — make Torque infinitely more watchable than its reputation might suggest. Crank, Shoot 'Em Up, and Smokin' Aces helped define the absurdity of the 2000s action landscape, but I'd argue Torque belongs in that conversation. There's an alternate reality where Torque was the franchise that took off, not the Fast films, and that's somewhere I'd trade all the Budweisers in the world to visit.