BY ANIKA SIMMONS
“The difference between men and boys is the lessons they learn.” So begins Reggie Rock Bythewood’s Biker Boyz, a story about earning one’s manhood set in a world of black motorcycle clubs and their rules, rituals and, of course, races.
Relative newcomer Derek Luke (Antoine Fisher) plays Kid, appropriately named because he has some growing up to do. Kid grew up entrenched in the biking culture and dreams of being a biker. His father Will (ER’s Eriq La Salle) is the mechanic for Smoke (Laurence Fishburne), who’s anointed “the King of Cali” because he’s faster than anyone else in the state.
Now eighteen, Kid wants desperately to earn his father’s respect for his racing ability, but his dad is focused only on keeping Smoke on top. Immature and jealous, Kid’s resentment for Smoke grows after his dad is killed in a freak motorcycle accident. Kid forms his own bike club (named, you guessed it, the Biker Boyz), and makes it his sole mission to take Smoke’s crown, by any means necessary.
Bythewood, who co-wrote and directed Biker Boyz, has been involved with bringing stories about African Americans to the screen since he began his writing career on The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World. He penned the screenplay for the Spike Lee-directed Get On the Bus and then ventured out on his own to write, produce and direct Dancing in September, an independent film that takes a critical look at images of black people on television.
With the ensemble cast in Biker Boyz, he continues bringing black people to the screen – a good number of them. The plentiful cast includes Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Orlando Jones (Drumline, Evolution), Vanessa Bell Calloway (The Brothers), Larenz Tate (Love Jones), Meagan Good (Eve’s Bayou and the upcoming Deliver Us From Eva), and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (TV’s Family Law). Lisa Bonet and Kadeem Hardison, two actors from Bythewood’s days on A Different World, resurface in the film as well. And musician Kid Rock (who, of course, is not black) and model Tyson Beckford also make appearances as rival bikers.
As he’s done in his other films, Bythewood attempts to give some pulse to Biker Boyz so that it is deeper than just a slick movie about fast races and tricky stunts. The larger question underlying the film, as in John Singleton’s similarly themed Baby Boy, is about what it takes to be a man. Kid starts off a cocky hustler who thinks manhood is bestowed upon those who brag the loudest and make the grandest entrance. With the reluctant help of Smoke, he learns that you have to show some respect to get some. Still, by the end of the film, you’re left with the feeling that these two characters resolved their issues more because it was time for the movie to end than because they came to some genuine common understanding.
Despite its good intentions, Biker Boyz overdoes the manhood theme. Characters strut, chests flexed, like peacocks, constantly challenging one another. When one man talks to another in this film, it’s always with steely eyes and an all-too-unnecessary dose of bravado. The repetitive feel of the film extends to the dialogue as well. Each time a character has something really important to say, he does it in a public, confrontational speech.
One would think the double servings of maleness could be tempered by the female characters. But again, Biker Boyz fails. Bell Calloway puts in a solid performance as Kid’s mother, but Good and Bonet appear to exist only to look pretty draped on the back of bikes and occasionally act as sounding boards for their men’s revelations.
But even with the flat female characters and repetitive scenes, Biker Boyz is the work of an up-and-coming storyteller with something to say, even if it can’t always cut through its own testosterone.
You can find movie listings for Biker Boyz and other films on The Record website.