Friday, August 9, 2013

Streets of Fire (1984)

This is one of those movies that pops up when anyone mentions the words “cheesy” and “eighties” in the same sentence. Because of my love for both of those words, I decided the time was right to check this flick out. Little did I know that that what I encountered was going to be a film at war with itself, a movie that tried to do so much and yet accomplished so little. Little did I know that I was going to see Willem Defoe in an outfit that would scar me for life.

In the not to distant future, in a post apocalyptic world, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a super popular rock artist in her little sector of the unnamed city. As she’s rocking out for a huge crowd, the evil and well coiffed Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe) abducts her to take back to his sector for some fun and games.

Luckily her ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Pare) arrives in town shortly afterward. Cody is a rough and tumble type who is willing to find Ellen deep in enemy territory… for a price. Ellen’s current boyfriend and manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) is willing to pay. So, along with the smart talking McCoy (Amy Madigan) the three journey into the danger zone. But even if they succeed, will Raven let them go? Or will the city burn with Streets of Fire?

Good Points:
  • If you love cheesy 80s rock, then this movie is for you
  • If you love ripe dialogue, then this movie is for you
  • If you love saying, “Oh my god are they in this movie too?” then this movie is for you

Bad Points:
  • The movie does not have a constant sense of production design
  • Seems to be flailing around looking for a plot or a point
  • Willem Defoe’s leather overalls or whatever they are supposed to be… put on shirt man!

This movie is a glorious mess. It seems to have no idea what it’s doing or why it’s doing it. A mix of visual styles from the 40s, 50s and 80s merge with stereotype characters and dialogue that will make you groan. The songs are either a gift from the gods of cheese, or the kind of thing that makes you scream for mercy. It’s at once Escape from New York and West Side Story and yet, that can’t even describe it. Very entertaining, but not for the reasons it was intended to.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  3

In Depth Review
I wonder if there was a point in the film where director Walter Hill looked at what was going on in front of him and said, “Oh, this isn’t going to work… is it?” But by that point it was too late, the film was well underway, Willem Dafoe was in his leather overalls and you just had to roll with it – and hope for the best.

I wonder if this was as cynical an exercise as it feels. It really feels like someone decided to make a film based solely off of what “kids these days” like. And by “these days” I mean 1984. It’s got the Jim Steinman penned songs (and if you are familiar with “Making Love out of nothing at all” or “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or most of the songs by Meatloaf, then you know Steinman). It’s got the retro 50s look and songs that groups like The Stray Cats made popular. It had the gangs running the city that we saw in Escape from New York. Our hero was more like Indiana Jones than anything else. But there were plenty of explosions to make the film live up to the title Streets of Fire. Take all these elements then stir them up with a whole case of familiar faces including Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Ed Begley Jr. Elizabeth Dailey, Rick Rossavich and plenty of others you’ll recognize by sight if not by name. The result has to stick in some way.

Yes, it does stick. The whole thing can only be viewed as a cinematic mess of slop, or it’s just an entertaining movie because it is so wonderfully messy. Now usually a movie as cynical as this (if it was in fact as calculated as I think it was) ends up feeling soulless. See the latest version of Clash of the Titans for proof of that. But I get the feeling that most of the folks on the screen decided to just go for it and have a good time. So the movie ends up being ridiculous and yet not completely aware of the joke. Oh there are times where a wink is given at the audience, but most of the time it’s played very serious – and it’s better for it.

The odd thing is that our two main characters Tom Cody and Ellen Aim are the least interesting folks of the bunch. This doesn’t reflect on the acting by Pare or Lane. It’s just that the characters are written pretty blandly. Cody is a typical tough guy of the 40s mold, with a heart of gold, of course. Aim is just a typical rocker seeking fame and fortune that’s always had a soft spot for Cody. That’s all these characters ever really are.

Compared to the other bizarre, over the top and more interesting characters in Streets of Fire, they don’t stand a chance. My favorite was McCoy, the tough talking spitfire portrayed by Amy Madigan. She nails the role, playing it a bit broad, but feeling right at home in the overstated production around her. On top of that, her character seems to have a back-story and personality that could support a whole film. She should have been our hero!

As outrageous as Dafoe is, he fits perfectly in the role of Raven. His natural presence combined with the makeup, hair and wardrobe make him a scary villain. No sane person would dare be seeing in public like that, especially in front of a mess of evil bikers in black leather. And when your gang contains Mr. Body from Clue you know you’re in for some danger.

But then there are all kinds of odd characters thrown in here. Moranis’ Fish is a loud mouth trash-talking snob… with a heart of gold? Bill Paxton plays Clyde the Bartender, an idiot with a blacked out tooth and … a heart of gold? Then there’s Elizabeth Daily who plays Baby Doll. This little groupie shows up for no reason, stays around for no reason and really has no reason to be in the movie other than to wear hot pink and… you guessed it, have a heart of gold.

I could keep going, but I think you really need to check out Streets of Fire to truly experience it.

I have to say it was worth seeing. I spent the entire movie just wondering how the movie got made, how they people who made it feel about it and how the hell I missed this. It’s a wonderful slice of 1980s cheese that I would place up there with Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules and Megaforce. If that sounds good to you, definitely check it out!


  1. I love this wonderful misfire of a movie, which is indeed a “What planet is this?” mess – and I agree that Amy Madigan has the best role. I think this has to be viewed as a vehicle for launching Diane Lane, who back then was on the cover of Time and widely hailed as the next superstar. Didn’t happen. Oh, to be sure, she is a star and a highly regarded actress, but she didn’t take off and soar in the manner of, say, Jennifer Lawrence today, as she was expected to do. One reason might be this movie, which she chose over both Splash and Risky Business. The studio expected it to be an instant cult classic (Lucas thought the same of Howard the Duck) but it was too 80s even for the 80s, and barely made a ripple. Besides, as you say, her character in the film isn’t particularly interesting. For my money the best Diane Lane role is as bad girl Lorry Dane in the neo-noir The Big Town (1987), which truly is a good film, though it, too, did poor box office. For all that, Streets of Fire is a fun watch – and I save my rubber coveralls for special occasions only.

  2. I did not know that story about Diane Lane. She's a really good actress, so it's a bit of a shame that her star didn't take off back then. The first time I saw her was as the blind tech in "Manhunter".

    I think "Streets of Fire"has become a bit of a cult classic, but it has taken nearly 20 years and the internet to get there. I only found out about it because I kept seeing memes that had to do with the movie, and one of the comedy/reviewers I watch kept mentioning it.

    Oddly enough, there are moments in "Streets of Fire" that look like they inspired some Japanese anime. The concert scene in the beginning reminds me strongly of Priss' concert from the original "Bubblegum Crisis" series.

    1. To be fair, the one-two punch of THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH really helped launch Diane Lane's career and then STREETS OF FIRE and THE COTTON CLUB put it in hibernation for awhile as she went into self-imposed exile.

      I LOVE this film for everything that it is, that it isn't and that it wants to be. I can see what Walter Hill and co. were trying to do with this film and they almost pull it off. It's really a love letter to old pulpy genre films from a bygone era - maybe something Sam Fuller would've made back in the day. It's the fusing of certain '80s aesthetics is what hampers it somewhat. But I do love films that create their own stylized worlds that belong in no particular time but their own. If you think about it, STREETS OF FIRE really anticipates a film like SIN CITY... only without all the CGI.

      Oh, and btw. Lane wasn't in MAHUNTER - that was Joan Allen.

    2. You make a good point about it's link to "Sin City". I have to say I had a great time with "Streets of Fire" and it was just a lot of fun from beginning to end. Part of me wishes it had been a bit more coherent and better thought out. But the other part of me just laughs and says, that would ruin the whole feel. It's perfect in it's messy form.

      And thank you for correcting me. I don't know how I confused the two women. [shakes head] must have written that before having my morning tea.