Sunday, October 18, 2009

Moses at the Movies: Streets of Fire

Streets of Fire is a rad movie. Oh it's got problems, baby. Problems like you wouldn't believe. But that doesn't stop it from being rad, oh no.

Directed by Walter Hill back in 1984 (shortly after writing 48 Hrs. and The Warriors), Streets of Fire seeks to combine Cool Things from the '50s with Cool Things from the '80s, and I must carefully dance around the fact that I probably don't have enough cachet in '50s pop culture to properly analyze this movie. That's okay! Analysis is not what Streets of Fire is all about.

What it is about is pretty cut and dry. Willem Dafoe, who wears inconsistently ridiculous-looking clothes throughout the movie and runs a biker gang, decides to kidnap the lead singer of the coolest band on the block: "Ellen Aim and The Attackers" Much like the rest of the movie, they look '50s but sound '80s. Big time. They consist primarily of members from new wave group Face to Face. That explains it.

Shortly after his hazy, smoke-filled reveal, Willem Dafoe grabs poor ol' Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and runs off on a motorcycle. One can only assume that she was dizzy, the result of flailing around at the end of the above musical number. Her manager, played by Rick Moranis, gets punched off the stage almost immediately. The twist is that he is also a money-grubbing jerk, I guess!

After that, we get introduced to ex-soldier Tom Cody, played by the fairly career-dead Michael Paré. He's back in town at the request of his sister, who runs a diner. We also find out that he is ripped in a decidedly old-school, pre-steroids way, and capable of beating up entire gangs by throwing them through windows. About a minute after that, he runs into McCoy (Amy Madigan), a tomboyish ex-soldier who "ran out of wars" and wants to help him stick it to Willem Dafoe on his own turf. Oh yeah, Tom Cody used to be Ellen Aim's girlfriend, and begrudgingly agrees to bring Rick Moranis along for the Big Showdown down in The Battery.

Streets of Fire being what it is, the Big Showdown happens twenty minutes into the film. Tom Cody rescues Ellen Aim, blows up a lot of motorcycles, and exchanges deadpan one-liners with Willem Dafoe on a flaming street. Then everybody hightails it outta there, and the movie forgets what it's doing for about 45 minutes. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the whole shebang nearly falls apart on itself by the halfway mark.

Thankfully, the last 15 minutes of this movie manage to right the vessel in time for a climactic showdown with an important lesson to impart on the viewer: Don't bring guns to a sledgehammer fight. Yes, you have to watch this for yourself, I'm afraid. It'll do you good.

The dialogue in this film is incredible: It wouldn't surprise me to find out the screenplay was written entirely without the use of commas. Ebert's review sums it up nicely:
"The language is strange, too: It's tough, but not with 1984 toughness. It sounds like the way really mean guys would have talked in the late 1950s, only with a few words different, as if this world evolved a slightly different language."
There's an enthusiastic messiness to the proceedings that reminds me a lot of charming '80s OAVs, which this movie may or may not have inspired. Characters do nonsensical shit on a regular basis just because it's awesome. More than half the named cast in the movie is worthless and seem to exist by accident, as if Hill and Larry Gross forgot to hastily whiteout their lines from the screenplay and just kinda rolled with it. And the style in this movie! Every damn street in the city seems to exist beneath L Train tracks. There are two cops policing the entire city, both corrupt. And the music - of course - which is so prominent as to almost dominate the proceedings entirely. Tonight is what it means to be young, and you better not forget it.

The original DVD release that I watched has a smearily awful sub-VHS transfer, but the first thing I looked up after the credits rolled was the HD DVD release: it may be a dead format, but it looks like it's the only way to watch this movie the way it was intended. That's... oddly fitting.

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