The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - Streets of Fire (1984) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - Streets of Fire (1984)

Second Sight Films present Walter Hill's forgotten rock 'n roll action fable in HD.

Directed by: Walter Hill
Starring: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr, Kathy Griffin

The Movie:

Walter Hill has always been a director who embraces the mythic, able to transpose the tropes and heritage of the Western to genres as diverse as the cop thriller, gangster movie and camp street toughs on the run films like The Warriors. Not only one of the most consistent directors in Hollywood, but one who deploys the economy of old school Hollywood without the nostalgia that can so easily turn into pastiche.
Following the success of  48 hrs, Hill followed up with this self styled rock n’ roll fable about singer Ellen Aim (Lane), a successful singer who is kidnapped at her homecoming gig by bike gang The Bombers, led by Raven (Defoe), who is less Marlon Brando in The Wild One and more homoerotic pale skinned vampire with a nice line in S&M fishing outfits (those PVC waders have to be seen to be believed). When Cody (Pare), former soldier and onetime beau of Ellen, returns, he strikes a deal with her manager and new boyfriend Billy Fish (Moranis) to get her back.
It’s an archetypal plot and Hill and co-writer Larry Gross never shy away from the fact. The dialogue is pure pulp, skirting the edge of camembert levels of cheese to settle on a mild brie. This is a cowboy trying to get his girl back from an Indian chief. It’s like the cast of Glee deciding to remake The Searchers but auto-tuning out any hint of rape or racism. Hill takes the look and imagery of fifties biker movies and adds a heavily rain soaked neon patina to proceedings, slapping on fist pumping power rock ballads and enough hairspray to destroy the ozone layer. It shouldn’t work, but Hill's full throttle embracing of the cliches and iconography of the genre never feels affected. When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez attempt this genre fusion it always feel as though they are directing in quotation marks. It’s a studious distance that makes their work feel as though it is preserved in formaldehyde.
It’s unabashed enjoyment is what keeps it still fresh and alive. A box office failure at the time (a victim of studio politics and little or no marketing), no doubt a mixture of musical artificiality and tough guy action made it a tough sell for those just awaking to the embryonic pleasure of Stallone and Arnie. The power ballads seem hideously dated now (the work of Interscope founder Jimmy Iovine); these are full on Bat out of Hell, Bonnie Tyler at her most caterwauling efforts, which strangely will be of great appeal to those who like beer soaked death by Karaoke and Rock of Ages musical nostalgia fests. It’s a shame because Ry Cooder's score is one of its strengths. If they had used a blues inflected rockabilly score it would have possibly been the timeless fairytale its creators intended.
Casting has always been a strength in Hill’s movies so it’s a shame that the biggest failing is the performance of Pare as Cody. He may be a barely believable cypher of a “man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do” shtick but he invests his delivery with almost zero conviction. Like an Athena poster, he may look the part but he is all wooden. You wonder the kind of brio that an eighties Matt Dillon or Mickey Rourke would have brought to proceedings. Fortunately the rest of the cast work wonders. Defoe has always been an unsettling vulpine presence and here he brings an ethereal homoerotic energy to the role. Lane is convincing as a stage performer and Moranis, for the first and possibly only time in his career, is part of the pivotal love triangle that drives the film, toning down the uber nerd just enough to convince as her manager. Madigan as McCoy adds a sexually ambiguous angle as Cody's sidekick and stays just the right side of annoying. You also get a couple of cameo appearances from Bill Paxton as the bartender in the early endearing asshole phase of his career and a pop up from Ed Begley Jr as a tramp.
It’s a one off, a film that only a director with a hit under his belt could get away with; films like this just wouldn’t get off the ground today. It’s silly, souffle light and oh so eighties. Robert Townsend pops up as a member of soul group The Sorrels, doing just enough shufflin’ and jiving to prompt him to write and direct comedy satire Hollywood Shuffle.
Heavily flawed though it may be, Streets of Fire has a cinematic sweep and energy that is infectious; the gang may have kidnapped Ellen for no discernible reason. They may also be in possession of the most unroadworthy and explosive motorbikes in the history of cinema, but by the time “I Can Dream About You” kicks in you will be smiling and will not care.
The Extras

The focal point of this Blu Ray release is the feature length documentary Rumble on the Lot. It’s an impressive work, comprehensively going into all aspects of the production. The only significant person missing is Diane Lane. You get some idea why Pare’s performance is lacking watching this. As an inexperienced chef turned actor he seems to have been given the minimum of direction; he also still seems to be harboring an unrequited love for Lane, which is quite understandable. Walter Hill seems remarkably sanguine about the studio problems that scuppered the film. This is a must watch for fans of the film.
The original press kit is less essential. Very repetitive within its 25 minute run time, it also  has many scenes used in Rumble. Add two music videos that make you realize just how much the pop promo has developed in thirty odd years. 
The film has never looked better (it’s a dark film so expect a lot of grain in the night time scenes) and the remastered 5:1 audio is robust. Overall a fine release of a neglected work in Hill’s filmography.

Jason Abbey