Streets of Fire [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #40]

Mid-last year, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #40.  Spoilers ahead.  

Streets of Fire

Directed by Walter Hill

Release Date:  June 1, 1984
My age then:  13 years old

What it is about:  Popular rock singer Ellen Aim is suddenly kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by the vicious Raven Shaddock. Ellen’s ex-lover, the tough and capable Tom Cody is called in to help rescue her. He teams of up with Ellen’s current boyfriend and manager, Billy Fish, and a new friend / former soldier named McCoy to rescue her. The group must survive the night as they are pursued by both police and Raven’s gang. Eventually, Cody and Ellen get back together romantically, and Cody and Raven are at the centre of a huge showdown between the gang members and the residents of Ellen’s neighborhood. Cody is victorious, but even though he is in love with Ellen, he leaves, seeing their lives as too far apart to work in the long term.

Starring Michael Paré as Tom Cody, Diane Lane as Ellen Aims, Amy Madigan as McCoy, Rick Moranis as Billy Fish, Willem Dafoe as Raven, and Deborah van Valkenberg as Tom’s sister Reva. Richard Lawson and Rick Rossovich are police officers. E. G. Daily is “Baby Doll”–a fan of Ellen’s who joins the heroes for a while. Bill Paxton has a small role as a bartender friend of Tom’s. Stoney Jackson, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson and Robert Townsend play the “Sorels” – a doo-wop style singing ensemble. Ed Begley jr. is apparently in the movie somewhere but I missed him.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I really didn’t know anything about the movie except for the general street gang / rock music vibe of the thing. I think whatever impressions I had of it were blurred with Eddie and the Cruisers (also starring Paré) and Class of 1984, neither of which I had seen either.

Reality: This is a crazy film, even crazier than it’s neighbor on this list, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. It bills itself as “A Rock & Roll Fable”, and is an unusual blend of tones and influences: it’s an action film mixed with a dose of fairy tale, some super-hero vibes, a bunch of teen gang drama, a sprinkle of romance, and a huge serving of rock music video, all wrapped up in a surprising amount of nightmare dystopia. It’s full of color and energy and loud music and is undeniably fun to watch. It also does a pretty decent job capturing a feeling of angry teen rebellion…but you can’t exactly call it a good movie.

The film’s hyper-stylized world is cool, but doesn’t really lend to the sort of naturalism that would help create a real emotional hook for the story. And the performances are just a bit too broad to make up for it. Michael Paré has got some screen presence and he holds up his end of the picture, but he doesn’t generate a sense of depth beyond his unbeatably cool exterior. Rick Moranis is mostly annoying and somewhat dull in his largely straight role as Ellen Aim’s unlikable boyfriend / manager. And Diane Lane looks fantastic, but again there’s just not a lot of actual character there for her to work with–and she ultimately does not have a huge amount of agency in the story (Cody at one point even punches her fully in the face to knock her out–it’s to get her out of danger but is still startling to see, especially as it doesn’t really impact upon her attraction to him).

More interesting is the sidekick character played by Amy Madigan, as well as Willem Dafoe’s villainous Raven, but that’s mostly because they’re the two most outrageous characters the movie has to offer, so they both stand out and fit in well with the movie’s overall aesthetic. Probably the most emotionally honest performance is Deborah van Valkenberg as Cody’s sister, although I also appreciated Richard Lawson (who I know only from V) as an earnest policeman.

Still, the final fight between Cody and Raven (with sledgehammers!) is pretty well edited, and the movie is never boring, which puts it well ahead of the last film I watched in this series.

Apparently, there’s an “unofficial” sequel to Streets of Fire called Road to Hell which was released a full 24 years later, and featured both Paré and van Valkenberg as the same characters, and new actors playing Ellen Aim and McCoy. It seems like it was released in 2008 but had new footage added in 2013. I just watched the trailer and the thing looks legitimately terrible, and like it was mostly shot in front of a green screen.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It’s not a great story or a powerful film, but it is an interesting visual experience, and compared to the trailer for Road to Hell looks like a masterpiece.

See here for the Master List.


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