Usually I like to celebrate celebrity birthdays, honor cinematic anniversaries, or reference new releases with the movies chosen for induction. However, for the rest of July, I’m shifting gears with a new feature I’m calling Attack the Queue! I am forever adding movies to my daunting Netflix Queue, making it increasingly intimidating. Rarely do the vault inductees come from that list, but no more. The next eight posts should help to chip away an ever so small piece of that mountain of movies that awaits me in my free time.
Rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) of Ellen Aim and the Attackers has come home to Richmond for a benefit concert produced by her mouthy boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). As fans cheer, a group of shadowy figures enter the auditorium. The Bombers, a motorcycle gang, charge the stage, inciting a riot, while their leader, Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), kidnaps Ellen in the commotion. Ellen’s friend, Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), telegrams her brother, Tom Cody (Michael Paré), a former soldier and also Ellen’s ex to come home. Fish hires Cody for $10,000 to rescue Ellen from the Bombers turf, the Battery. McCoy (Amy Madigan), an ex-soldier passing through joins Cody and Fish on the mission for a little extra pocket change.
Writer-director Walter Hill, along with writer Larry Gross, craft what is denoted at the opening as “A Rock and Roll Fable. Another Time, Another Place.” That it is. 80s rock concerts, telegraphs and dusters, 50s style diners and motorcycle gangs, 60s street racers, 70s R&B groups, and more can be spotted co-mingling in Streets of Fire. The combination creates an eclectic concept, but is that a compelling enough to reason to watch?
Michael Paré, looking an awful lot like Nathan Fillon’s Mal from Firefly, is not one to mince words, but he will rearrange your face if you get in his. He’s a bit hillbilly with his earth-tone duster and pants and cut-sleeve wifebeater, but strong-arming comes effortlessly. Paré’s portrayal is a bit confusing; emotionless stares and a flat delivery insinuate poor acting, but it’s a fairly spot-on portrayal of action heroes which his character is. Paré doesn’t need to convey emotions; Moranis’ Fish, with his constant bragging and babbling, and McCoy’s sarcasm more than fill the void.
Bill Paxton, who I’m beginning to think was in nearly every action film of the 80s and 90s, has a brief appearance as Cody’s old friend, Clyde the bartender. Cody and his ragtag rescue crew also encounters, the Sorels, an R&B group portrayed by Stoney Jackson, Grand L. Bush, Robert Townsend, and Mykelti Williamson. The only other brief role worth mentioning is Dafoe’s Raven. I’m going to say this, and not just because I absolutely love this man’s work, but the ten minutes or so that Willem Dafoe is onscreen are easily the number one reason to watch Streets of Fire. With hair, bordering on a flock of seagulls ‘do and black latex chest-waders (I shit you not) he is visually unforgettable. And of course, he brings that internal fire that makes all his roles so awesome.
As for the finer points of Streets of Fire‘s story, they are a little uneven. There is no chemistry between Ellen Aim and Cody. That’s bad considering Lane is so cute you’d think virtually anyone could generate some sparks with her. The action scenes are fairly standard for the 80s; lots of explosions with guys being either blown from their motorcycles or sent skidding into walls. The search and escape aspects of the search-and-rescue mission also fall flat with lots of characters simply staring at one another as they pass by unremarkable scenery. The coolest, and somewhat bizarre, sequence is when Raven challenges Cody to a maul battle.
Streets of Fire is an interesting movie… in theory. Part of me wants a second viewing to discover what interesting tidbits I may have overlooked. The other part of me recognizes that its weaknesses, and the vast array of better alternate/revisionist reality films available, will keep me from ever revisiting the picture.