During yesterday's NOW PLAYING taping, Paul criticized TORQUE for not being realistic. The scene in question features two guys on motorcycles chasing each other onto the top of a moving train. I'm not going to defend TORQUE or the execution of the scene, neither of which are all that good, but when it comes to action films, I think my current tastes favor the unreal.
Off the top of my head, my favorite actions moments from 2003 films include the fight scenes in SO CLOSE, the desert scenes in THE HULK, THE ITALIAN JOB'S subway chase, essentially all of KILL BILL VOL. 1 (love the House of Blue Leaves section), the samurai versus the Japanese army in THE LAST SAMURAI, the big fight on the French ship in MASTER AND COMMANDER, COLD MOUNTAIN'S opening battle, and the outlandish motocross sequence in CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, a film with ridiculous action only.
COLD MOUNTAIN, THE LAST SAMURAI, and MASTER AND COMMANDER are all of the classical school of epic filmmaking action. THE ITALIAN JOB and THE HULK present typical Hollywood action. (Come to think of it, there's was probably a pretty good chase or two in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS.) SO CLOSE, KILL BILL VOL. 1, and CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE are heavily stylized Hong Kong actioners that go over the top to varying degrees. For my money, these are the films that really delivered the goods.
When done right, that absurd Hong Kong flair and freedom from the laws of physics excites me most in today's action movies. Granted, this style is being done to death and isn't always directed and edited very well, but I like the idea of two motorcyclists jumping their bikes on a moving train in pursuit of each other. The scenario's sheer ridiculousness is exhilirating. It's the action equivalent of melodrama, a heightened, stylized degree of spectacle, or action as opera. Think big, bold gestures. John Woo's style is often called operatic or balletic. Seijun Suzuki's insane movie about assassins is called PISTOL OPERA. (By the way, this movie is visually stunning but a mixed bag in terms of narrative and making heads or tails of what's happening.)
Whether unrealistic action is good or bad depends on the film's context. In TORQUE'S case, you expect the bikers to push their motorcycles past the limits of believability, to deliver the thrill that quickens your pulse while you think, in a good way, "I can't believe what I'm seeing!" Maybe the film would have been better sticking to a range of crazy but plausible stunts. The reliance on CGI effects cripples the action scenes because they look so incredibly fake. Still, there's something I respect about the stunt's conception even if the execution fails. I'd love to see someone pull it off.