Video Store Action Heroes: Streets of Fire (1984)

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Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and two of The Attackers, about to get attacked (and lose, badly).

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 finalIt’s that time again, folks. You’re likely trapped inside like me for a spell, so I have your attention (at least for a few minutes before you try and sneak out). Say, look what the cat dragged in after a bit of a hiatus. This post is hopefully, virus-free and entertaining (or at the very least, one of those).

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When I first saw Walter Hill’s “Rock & Roll Fable” Streets of Fire way back in 1984, I can honestly say that I really didn’t like it much. Yet, there was a certain “je ne sais pas quoi” about it that made it quite magnetic. I went back at least four or five times to see it afterward probably in the hope it would get better with each viewing and even saw it a few more times on cable over the decades. Despite the ridiculously simple comic book style plot and one-note characters, the film’s super stylish looks combined with the genre and 1950’s/1980’s era blending made for a unique visual experience. Storytelling? Eh, there’s not so much to be thrilled over. Personally, I feel the film hasn’t aged well, original to modern cult following aside. But at least it gets straight to the action stuff if you just want that and well, you get your money’s worth if you go in totally blind expecting exactly what’s onscreen.

Plot-wise, it’s all this and no more, but I’m going to over-explain a tad here: During a concert in her hometown, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a biker gang and held hostage in another part of a fictional city.  A fan (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) calls in her tough guy ex-soldier brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré), who was previously romantically involved with Ellen, to go rescue her. He initially turns down the request, but (duh!), why else would he make the long trip back home? He ends up teaming up with Ellen’s new and wealthy jerk boyfriend/manager (Rick Moranis) and another ex-soldier he meets in a dive bar (Amy Madigan), and for a $10,000 fee, rescues Ellen, who thinks Tom only saved her for the money.

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Duck Tales! Ooo woo ooooo!!!

That mostly turns out to be false, and Tom later takes on the gang leader Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe, in too small of a role for a film’s main villain) in a fight with custom made sledgehammers where the outcome is more predictable than you’d think. While the end result is beautifully stylish and super easy to follow, for my tastes it’s too basic of a plot with no surprises or big twists. While the film packs in a lot of flash and neon-soaked noir-ishness, it ends up being up far too predictable despite that flashiness that it’s a bit disappointing.

 

That’s pretty much it about the story, although some of the supplemental stuff that happens either affects the plot in very predictable ways or just doesn’t affect things at all. Two examples: after rescuing Ellen, it’s decided the group dump their easily identified stolen flashy red car and the team commandeers a rickety school bus that happens to carry a quartet of singers who you know will end up being Ellen’s opening act as soon as they start singing a few minutes later. For some reason, there’s a super-fan (E.G. Daily) introduced late in the film who notices Ellen after she’s rescued and latches onto the team as a follower, but her character vanishes soon after. It almost feels as if Hill wrote the part, but literally had nothing for the character to do after her opening scenes.

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Want to maybe win at least five bucks? Quickly yell out “Five bucks says she loses the skirt!” if you see this film with friends who haven’t yet.

Probably the most interesting things for me at the time were seeing FEAR‘s lead singer Lee Ving in a few scenes as what amounts to a right-hand man given his proximity with Raven, and The Blasters with Dave Alvin’s striking face as he sings. But Hill’s script has the crazy flaw of a lack of good dialogue for some memorable looking characters like Dafoe, Ving, Alvin, and Marine Jahan (most notable to US viewers as Jennifer Beals’ dance double from Flashdance), who has a eyeball searing dance number that’s heavily edited but still almost too sexy for the PG rating. Oh well. At least Bill Paxton gets a hilarious cameo as a crude bartender who Madigan’s character knocks silly after he insults her.

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Paxton and pompadour, about to both go down for the count.

I think about the third or fourth time I saw the film, I ran into a couple I saw at the first showing a few weeks before and they both laughed when they recognized me. I recall the guy saying they didn’t like the movie much, but it was like a salty snack of a film with a really great soundtrack, which is pretty much my takeaway even now, after my latest viewing. That said, and as noted before. the film absolutely works if you just turn your brain off and enjoy the ride, not thinking about stuff like world-building or character depth. It’s loud and brash, stuff blows up a lot, there’s a bit of romance, the eternal struggle of man vs. man (with sledgehammers) in on full 80’s display, and if you’re not too critical (like me). you’ll find it enjoyably trashy and mostly harmless.

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This looks like an 80’s ad for a combo bug spray/pocket flamethrower/cologne…

While I haven’t seen director Albert Pyun’s 2008 not quite a sequel, but inspired by the film Road To Hell, part of me is intrigued by the trailer enough to have added it to a long (long) list of movies I need to watch. I watched the otherwise mostly excellent Shout Factory version a while back and revisited it for this post.

Well, I now probably have Tom Cody coming after me with a shotgun and a borrowed custom sledgehammer, but at least I know he’s predictable and will probably take the long train ride up here to get revenge. I’ll see if I can go stay in place somewhere else for a spell, but maybe he’ll leave me be because I still watch the movie he’s in and wish it were a bit meatier in terns of content. As imperfect as it is, there’s still some likability here that lingers after all these years.

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ROAD TRIP! Well, I’m in for it now…

That’s it this time, but make sure to check out the other VSAH crew for their takes on other Walter Hill flicks. Cinema Monolith is sipping a little Southern Comfort (Hi Todd!), Mike’s Take on the Movies takes on Red Heat, (Hi Mike!) and Wolfman’s Cult Film comes out to play-ayyyy with The Warriors (Hi, Mikey!). Stay safe, keep those hands clean and don’t forget the rest of your parts when it’s bath time!

-GW

11 thoughts on “Video Store Action Heroes: Streets of Fire (1984)

  1. Pingback: Southern Comfort (1981) | Cinema Monolith

  2. Pingback: Red Heat (1988) – Mike's Take On the Movies ………. Rediscovering Cinema's Past

  3. Pingback: The Warriors (1979) Video Store Action Heroes 4 x Walter Hill Movie Memories – Wolfmans Cult Film

  4. (Blanket message to all three reviews.) Can’t wait to read and comment but it will have to be tomorrow. Burnt me self out and gonna see the sun for a bit. Great to see a unison on 4 x VSAH all on top of each other in the feed. See you tomorrow guys.

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  5. I watched this last night for the first time, and I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly…flashy and fun to look at, a treat for the ears, but otherwise…hmmmm. I was watching what amounted to a copy that resembled a VHS tape, and I kept wishing I could’ve been seeing it in Blu-ray, which would’ve helped the visual presentation tremendously.

    And I know it’s not nice, but I just didn’t care for Michael Pare; I’d read afterwards that Eric Roberts was one of three possibilities for that role (along with Tom Cruise and Patrick Swayze), and I thought Roberts would’ve been a MUCH better choice. And the other characters weren’t really given much to do…especially Diane Lane, and as you mentioned, the main villain (when I first saw his character, I thought, hey, that guy looks like a sixteen-year-old Willem Dafoe!).

    Anyway, for all its negatives, it was still somehow an entertaining watch for me…and I kept waiting for that song I liked, and began to wonder if…oh there it is, in the end credits. Finally!

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    • The funny thing is, if you compare the rescue of Ellen to say, the rescue of Princess Leia on the first Star Wars, you can easily see where Hill failed in making that sequence thrilling. Imagine no tractor beam, the Millennium Falcon finding the Death Star because of a neon sign above it (flashing the words DEATH STAR, of course), stormtroopers riding around inside on speeder bikes, Luke getting the drop on Darth Vader and some elite troops, while Han go saves Leia, and blows up speeder bikes while standing in one place before he grabs the girl. Meanwhile, Ben Kenobi is sitting in the Falcon and waiting to pick everyone up when they’re done (Chewbacca is sick, so Ben’s got the job of pilot now). They all scoot away while Darth finally emerges, shaking a fist at the ship as it gets away…

      The whole movie is like that. It misses the chance for any surprises and other than the music and looks, it’s weakly structured.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Like all of these films we are featuring, I haven’t seen this one in years. Did pick up the blu so I’ll be checking it out soon. Basically I remember it as flashy but not one I needed to see repeatedly when I was a youngster falling in love with many of Hill’s flicks. Nice cast though and I forgot Moranis was in it. I hear he’s coming out of a 20 year retirement for Disney. Might be nice to have him back if it leads to other character parts.

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  7. Confession time, this is/was the only Walter Hill film from the 70s and 80s I hadn’t seen. So I got up to speed with it last night along with revisiting Red Heat.
    I roughly knew what to expect but I have to say I was expecting to like it more than I did! I wonder if I’d liked it more if I’d seen it at the time? I don’t think so as I can loose myself very well in old movies. There was something off with it, maybe cheap but it looked really great. The acting was pretty bad. Michael Pare sounds like Rocky and Dolph Lundgren had a voice baby and he had it transplanted in him!

    Loads I could say but it’ll go for ever. So I’m just gonna quick fire them off.
    Walter Hill loves to wet down a set! Starting to notice it a lot in his films.
    The one shiny clean red car stood out so cool against the dusty dirty future 50s!
    It had a bit of feel of Back to the Future at times, especially when the Sorels turned up.
    Nice spot of DJ microphone red lips from Warriors as a subway driver.
    The cover art work is divine. Love that.
    Paxton’s hair. Dafoe’s hair. Weird seeing Moranis in serious mode!
    Best thing by far I thought was Amy Madigan as McCoy. Her character was brilliant.
    Wow thats crazy news about the Road To Hell film with both Cody and his sister returning.

    Great review Gregg. Oh and thanks for the reminder, I gave my plums a good wash as well!

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    • For such a good looking film, it does disappoint, doesn’t it? If more depth were put into the story and characters, I could see it being a classic, but it literally sits there like an old man in a rocking chair telling a story that’s been told endlessly and better by others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “like an old man in a rocking chair telling a story that’s been told endlessly and better by others.”
        I don’t know if that’s an analogy or a metaphor but spot on Greg you have hit the nail on the head there sir.
        It had so much potential and wouldn’t of taken much for it to have turned out to be a real cult classic but it, unfortunately, just falls flat imho. Still I enjoyed seeing it and loved reading your review .

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  8. Pingback: What’s Been Watched This Month – April 2020 – Wolfmans Cult Film

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