It’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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!