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KPCW sends its most discerning moviegoers to the movies each week to let you know which films are worth going to and which are a pass. The Friday Film Review airs at 7:20 a.m., during the Noon News and in The Local View. KPCW Friday Film Reviewers are: Barb Bretz, Rick Brough, Mark Harrington and Linda Jager.

Friday Film Review | 'The Bikeriders'

Fans of biker films and the individual cast members will love the gloriously shot nostalgic film “The Bikeriders.”  But others may become bored by an over-narrated format and disjointed storyline.

“The Bikeriders” is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who previously penned and directed “Loving” and “Mud.” The fictional story follows the evolution of a Chicago motorbike club called the Vandals, as it spirals from a pursuant of belonging and romanticized freedom of the road into the violence of a full-fledged gang.

Nichols’ script is inspired by a photobook of the same title by civil rights photojournalist Danny Lyon, a New Journalism photographer who immersed himself completely as a participant of his documented subject. His photobook is a collection of his work from 1963-1967 when he rode with, photographed and recorded audio interviews of the midwestern Outlaws Motorcycle Club.

But “The Bikeriders” is not just a bad boy on bikes movie. The story is told from the perspective of Kathy, played by Jodie Comer, who is introduced as a girlfriend of one of the gang members. Kathy came in as an outsider, abandoning her suburban life after falling in love with Benny, an enigmatic free-spirit and the club’s muscle. Austin Butler adds to his heartthrob status in a James Dean-like portrayal of Benny, who is constantly on the brink of exploding as his independence becomes increasingly threatened by competing loyalties to Kathy and the club’s leader. Kathy narrates various stories of the gang’s formation as recounted in audio recordings by Lyon.

The club’s founder is Johnny, played by Tom Hardy, who is a dirt track bike racer who becomes inspired to form the riding club after seeing Marlon Brando in "The Wild One.” He too flees a regular trucking job and suburban family to helm the club and wants Benny to take the club over as new members transform the club into a violent gang with criminal ties and satellite clubs all over the Midwest.

The real star of the film is Jodie Comer, who blends well-timed quips that splice the romanticized view of bike clubs with the harsh realities that seep into the culture, transforming male-bonding into a seedy, dangerous collection of criminals.

Of course, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy and a great supporting cast led by Michael Shannon all do their thing and the cinematography and set designs put the audience in the seat of roaring motorbikes, the sound of which practically become their own character in the film. However, as good as the film looks and sounds, there really isn’t anything new here, and while well-acted, the character treatment is ultimately fairly superficial.

So, on my Black Diamond ski trail rating system, “The Bikeriders” earns my intermediate blue ski trail rating. Nichols successfully transforms Lyon’s riding club photos into an immersive period film which is both glossy and gritty in finish. However, employing a narrator, even as talented as Jodie Comer, spoon feeds an over-simplified POV that I’m guessing the photographer would hate. The non-linear story and flashback format also siphons the emotional impact of an outstanding cast and diminishes the director’s success in transporting the audience back in time.

“The Bikeriders” is playing in theaters with a runtime of one hour and fifty-six minutes, and the film is rated R for language, violence, drug use, sexuality and the thrilling roar of motorcycle engines accelerating on the open road.

City attorney by day, Friday Film Review critic by night.