Anyone who has lives in Philadelphia for a considerable period of time knows that visitors, remarkably, are still fascinated with those damn Art Museum steps. They're neat, I guess, but I'm always puzzled when they become the primary point of interest for tourists. So, here I am with three actors on a publicity tour for their upcoming movie Biker Boyz and the first thing I hear is, "We're gonna check out Rocky on our way to the airport -- go to the Rocky steps and run 'em." If you've seen the Biker Boyz trailer and are particularly cynical, you might conclude that running those museum steps would be far more interesting than watching what looks like a cheap Fast and the Furious rip-off. You would be wrong, because the movie is a surprise: a well-made, sure-footed modern day western that has its heart in the right place. It essentially ignores Fast and the Furious's fringe elements, like the criminal underworld and the police investigation. Instead, director Reggie Rock Bythewood has made a straightforward, clean-cut racing movie about a young buck nicknamed Kid (Derek Luke) who tries to unseat reigning "King of Cali" Smoke (Laurence Fishburne) and become the proverbial Fastest Gun in the West after his mechanic father is impaled by a flying motorcycle. Yes, I said "impaled by a flying motorcycle." Still, comparisons to the unexpected Vin Diesel hit are inevitable. Asked whether he thinks Biker Boyz can carve out a niche of its own when it hits theaters, Brendan Fehr, who plays one of Kid's cohorts, seems a little uncomfortable. "I hope so... there are obvious comparisons for obvious reasons, but the obvious comparisons aren't always accurate." Derek Luke, who may or may not harbor some bitterness towards Dreamworks' marketing department, adds that "Biker Boyz has its own uniqueness, so if that's the slot that they choose... I personally believe it has much more, but we'll let someone else decide that." If Luke is unhappy, it's for good reason. Coming out smack in the middle of the traditional early-year doldrums, the movie may be hurt by its derivative advertising. The commercials show a lot of revving, skidding and burning out, but not much else, neither doing the film justice nor inspiring one to run out and see it. Logically, studios will imitate past successes, but the move has backfired before and likely will again. Once the touchy topic of The Fast and the Furious was behind us, the conversation turned livelier. I asked them to address whether Biker Boyz pushed the envelope of the MPAA rating, and if they thought a better movie could have been made if they weren't required to turn in a PG-13. Fehr responded with what may be blasphemy to the male college audience: "We didn't need more tits, we didn't need more swear words, we didn't need more blood, we didn't need any of that. That's not what makes a good movie. I think it would have made for a worse movie if we had that freedom [to get an R rating]." Right. If the film will be remembered down the road, it will be for the rather incredible motorcycle stunts performed by real bikers at great risk to their well-being. Did the actors learn any tricks of their own? Rick Gonzalez, who plays a fiery, fast-talking biker boy named Primo, reports that he was disappointed. "No, man, Dreamworks isn't letting me learn anything, because then I'm going to be out there trying to do it... They kept me away as much as they could from the bikes." The real story, of course, is Derek Luke, for whom Biker Boyz follows-up to his much-lauded debut in Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher. Though confident about his abilities as an actor, the 28-year-old is still in a slight stupor of disbelief. At the Sundance Film Festival premiere of his next project, a quieter film called Pieces of April, he was stunned at the movie lovers' reception. "There was a tent, and there were 500 people waiting, and I'm like, 'What movie is this?' " A man on the edge of stardom can be forgiven the urge to run the art museum steps and jump up and down.


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