Streets of Fire

The hero, the girl, the city, the bad guy
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Walter Hill
Starring: 
Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis
The Setup: 
Silly rock fable about really dumb things.
Discussion: 

Ah yes, Streets of Fire. I remember this movie receiving a fair amount of fanfare when it was released, managing to create a certain amount of buzz that it was going to be somehow ultra cool. Then I saw it in the theater and it was a big nothing, and apparently bombed pretty bad. And I now see on IMDb that they thought there would be sequels. So I thought: how awesome to see Streets of Fire! Maybe it's really good! Maybe it was before its time! But no, it's still quite lame, but definitely fun. Kind of. You know, more fun than some things. Less fun than others. Many others.

We open with a title telling us that this is a "rock and roll fable" taking place in "Another time, another place." Okay, I'm on board, and willingly lowering my disbelief! We are at a rock club, and soon Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, yes, THAT one) takes the stage. Now, is that a good rock name? No? Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it? I think they could have tried harder. Anyway, she comes out and sings this song "there's nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby, but we should be going nowhere fast." Now, if that little nugget of rock n' roll nihilism is too dark for you, please reconsider whether Streets of Fire may prove too intense for your fragile sensibilities.

But get this, 80s fans: The woman who provides Diane Lane's singing voice in the film is Laurie Sargent, who was part of the group Face to Face, who had a medium 80s hit with the pretty awesome "10-9-8," which I must confess is still in fairly regular rotation in my music library. And the group that is playing behind her in the movie is: Face to Face! What a nice little surprise. Now, Diane Lane was 19 when she made this film, but darn it if she doesn't come off as thirty. And her body is just, not fat at all, just LARGE. She seems weirdly big. And she's just a teensy bit wrong all around. Pat Benatar she is not, and that's kind of what she needs to be, Meanwhile, Mmmmm, Pat Benatar. Oh, and don't miss the humor of watching obviously female voices come out of the male backup singers.

Anyway, this song continues while the credits go on, interrupting the action every so often, and going on, and on, and on. The credits just last forever, and they serve to keep the movie from really beginning for some time. Anyway, then these bikers come in out of nowhere, and suddenly storm the stage and assault the band! And they abduct Ellen! Then there's a riot at the concert, everyone screaming and running, then there's a massive riot outside, and many car chases and crashes and explosions, while you're all a little bit like: "Really?" It does strain credulity, but we were told that this is a fable. And it also goes on forever, cluing canny viewers into the fact that this movie is going to stretch everything out to the max [and is still only 90 minutes].

Then there's a diner, where dewy-eyed Reva works, and in walks in Michael Pare as Tom Cody, who one would take to be her boyfriend, but is actually her brother. They are soon assaulted by these sort of 50s greasers, but Cody kicks their asses. They then meet Amy Madigan as McCoy, this kind of tomboy-thing that might make you ask "What the fuck is THAT supposed to be?" She's akin to the weird tomboy-creature from the incomparable Neon Maniacs, and her sour demeanor will also serve to alienate and cause you to withhold affection. She kind of looks like Communist China Raggedy Ann, and guess what? She's also indigent, but in a charming way. Naturally, she and Cody become buddies. By the way, the credits are STILL going on.

Anyway, Reva wants Cody to go rescue Ellen, and you're like "And you know Ellen... how?" Because we just saw her in the audience at the show. Maybe she's just a really big fan. He reluctantly agrees. The next question you might have is: "Am I really seeing Rick Moranis in a semi-serious role?" And indeed you are, and it must be said that Moranis, who plays a tiny dweeb who is an arrogant prick throughout, is by far the best thing in the film and a total hoot throughout. And get this: He is supposedly dating Ellen, as we will find out later, which is sort of like Charlize Theron dating Rodney Dangerfield, but you know, it's a fable. Anyway, they leave to rescue her, their drive extended as long as everything else in the film, when we suddenly: cut to a stripper! And essentially watch the stripper's entire routine, another sign of a movie with only 47 minutes of story being stretched to 90 minutes. This is apparently the rare strip club devoted to small-breasted women, by the way. In the back, Ellen is tied to a bed, where she is the prisoner of Willem Dafoe, who is going to keep her prisoner until she falls in love with him, and, despite her being scantily-clad and tied to a bed, wants nothing more than chaste kisses.

Then the team comes in and rescues Ellen, which involves a great deal of motorcycle crashes and explosions and fistfights, and it all really is quite tedious. There's a bit of a Star Wars-esque pissed-off-princess to Ellen, who is just SO steamed when she learns that Cody only saved her for the money, although honestly I think she should be happy just to be saved at all, and not quibble that it wasn't for love. Now we find out that Ellen and Cody used to date "real hot and heavy," but then she dumped him for Moranis, whose record connections could boost her to fame, as they did. On the way out, they pick up ANOTHER character, a sort of Pia Zadora type [and OH, if only it HAD been Pia Zadora]. Anyway, they escape in a bus that contains a four-man soul group. I guess all of this is supposed to be wacky?

Well, even though this is only about halfway through the movie, I have almost nothing to say about the rest, except that, as you might have guessed, we do hear that soul group sing a number. Things end up pretty much as you expect, except that in the end, Cody actually walks away from Ellen, leaving her in the arms of Rick Moranis, because Hill and company had the idea that this film would be such a massive hit it would spawn sequels, with the Cody character wandering hither and yon, having adventures in each place. But this movie flopped and that was pretty much that.

So this post Hill's The Warriors, and that is the obvious comparison. Like that film, it's an elevated, hyper-stylized setting with archetypal characters, engaged in a kind of meta-adventure. Apparently this film was intended as Hill's fantasia on the kind of movie he would want to see as a teen: motorcycles, neon, kissing in the rain, etc. The thing is, The Warriors referred to a real place and a real time, so it had all that to keep it grounded, and make it a fantasia on a known, real place. It also had its retelling of The Odyssey aspect, adding even more resonance. But this one is just pure fantasy, which might seem like an even better idea, but actually makes it all untethered and unmoored. It's just about "the hero" saving "the girl" in "the city" from "the bad guy." So there's absolutely no reality to fall back on--and the story and characters are so bare bones--that there's really just not a lot of anything to sink your teeth into. I'm trying to think of a movie like this--hyper-stylized non-reality--that worked, and I can't, although I can think of plenty that tried and failed, like Dick Tracy and One From the Heart.

Other than that, not a lot to say. The movie has a distinctive look, mostly from wet streets with colorful neon lights reflected in them, and it turns out that much of it was shot in Chicago, using the elevated trains here, and the freeway that runs underneath downtown. The rest was recreated on a set, which is why you'll notice the action always seems to be winding back to one familiar stretch of street. There is an unofficial sequel called Road to Hell, in which Michael Pare returns as Cody. And that's about it. Unfortunately, not a lot of reasons to watch this one.

Should you watch it: 

No, basically.