Monday, August 4, 2008
Film #69: Streets of Fire
1984's schizophrenic sci-fi-tinged action musical from writer/director Walter Hill marked the beginning of the filmmaker's downward slide. Hill was once the heir to the Peckinpah throne, the action master of 80s classics like Southern Comfort, 48 HRS, and The Long Riders--and let's not forget his 70s classics like Alien (as producer and co-writer), The Warriors, Hickey and Boggs (as writer), and Hard Times. After the weird but rewarding Streets of Fire, he slid with Another 48 HRS and then plunged by ill-advisedly entering fully into the comedy genre with Brewster's Millions and Red Heat. He's since bounced back again with 1994's Wild Bill and his involvement in HBO's Deadwood. He's had an fascinating career. And Streets of Fire is undoubtedly most bizarre production (notwithstanding the outstandingly terrible Brewster's Millions with Richard Pryor and John Candy).
Diane Lane plays Ellen Aim, the sexy lead singer for the house band at Torchy's, where she is kidnapped off the stage by Raven Shaddock (a memorably high-cheekboned Willem Dafoe) and his motorcycle gang The Bombers. Michael Pare is Tom Cody, the bad-ass ex-boyfriend who comes to her rescue, hired by her meek new boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Amy Madigan scores high marks (in a part originally written for a guy) as McCoy, a female soldier-of-fortune who finds employment as Cody's sidekick. Rounding out the unusual cast are 80s starlet Deborah Van Valkenburgh, former Fear lead singer Lee Ving, pre-autuer Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle), Elizabeth Daily (Pee-Wee's cute girlfriend in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure), Rick Rossovich, and now more-famous actors Mykelti Williamson, Lynne Thigpen, Bill Paxton and Ed Begley Jr.
Great cast, bombing around in a ridiculous movie that's so over-the-top, it's delicious. Streets of Fire belongs in that "everything and the sink" genre that The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai, Repo Man, Zachariah, Ice Pirates, The Phantom of the Paradise, The Apple, Southland Tales and Big Trouble in Little China belong in--genre mashups that have limited appeal, but which are cult films from the word go (most of these movies, including Streets of Fire, were box office duds but home video hits). Streets of Fire, by virtue of its incredible production design (by John Vallone), cinematography (by Andrew Lazlo), and costumes (by Marilyn Vance), smacks of a setting that's not quite 50s, not quite 60s, and almost but not quite the 80s...but somewhere in that intradimensional sub-slice, knowwhutimean? It gives you that same sense of disorientation that Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Mystery Men, and Michael Radford's 1984 give you.
This "timeless" quality alone makes the film worth seeing. Add to its joys fine performances from a very scary Willem Dafoe, a doofy Rick Moranis and an ass-kicking Amy Madigan, PLUS a chart-topping song score including contributions from Walter Hill-mainstay Ry Cooder, Tom Petty, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, Bob Seger, Dan Hartman (who had a very-1980s top 20 hit with "I Can Dream About You"), and "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" writer Jim Steinman, who delivers the film's best song, a Springsteen-esque anthem "sung" by Diane Lane called "Nowhere Fast" that features the strange climactic call-out "Godspeed! Godspeed!!" Streets of Fire, with all this on its side, and everything against it, remains strange and unforgettable.