Hell's Angels on Wheels, if you're into the biker genre, is not a
second-rate vehicle for its promoters, the Hell's Angels (Sonny Barger,
reportedly at the time, said it was the "most accurate" of the films on
them). Going by the sort of Roger Corman standard (not just for biker
movies but for his brand of 'fast-food' style films, not very good for
you but it goes down fast), of a fight or some other form of action
happening every 15 minutes or so, the film is hip in its period way,
and isn't pretentious in the slightest.
Even with the name of Jack Nicholson's character, Poet, nothing near the intellectual and philosophical realm of Easy Rider comes close (though Nicholson's main scenes are some of the best in the film, more comparable to Five Easy Pieces than the Wild Angels). It's about a guy, Poet, who is a gas station attendant who decides randomly to go along with the Angels. Some of the standard plot stuff happens; the hero's girl flocking to someone 'else'; shenanigans in a small town; beefs with the 'pigs'. Leading along the way, in a sense almost in an unintentional training form for a later triumph, Laszlo Kovacs is the DP and he takes down these images usually in more of a documentary form as they ride around, and there is an added (if of course all in good, violent biker fun) intensity to the fight scenes. Along with Nicholson, his usual brooding, cool self, is Adam Rourke, turning in not a bad performance as the leader of the gang.
Is it trash? Sure. Is it worth watching once? Absolutely, at least if you're curious about/into the period and sub-genre (the music isn't very good, by the way, a sign of what was needed in Easy Rider). Does it give a little room for Nicholson to give a little of his great B-movie gusto? No doubt about it. And is the story paper thin? No doubt about it. Hell's Angels on Wheels is stupid, rollicking good drive-in style fun, with some technical flair and character actor hipness to cover the tracks of the many flaws.
At first gas station attendant Poet is happy when the rockers gang "Hell's Angels" finally accepts him. But he's shocked when he learns how brutal they are - not even murder is a taboo to them. He gets himself in trouble when the leader's girlfriend falls in love with him - and he welcomes her approaches.
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