Cult Classics: Streets of Fire

24 Oct

I have wanted to see Streets of Fire for several years now.  As soon as I discovered that was written and directed by Walter Hill, the same man who gave us The Warriors and 48 Hours, I was hooked.  Then I watched a trailer for Streets of Fire and noticed that it looked like a 1950s version of The Warriors, but with Willem Dafoe and Rick Moranis added in.  Color me intrigued.

And slightly disappointed.  This was not what I was expecting.  Yes, it was a 1950s version of The Warriors, but it was also a rock n’ roll musical using lead actors that were not believable in their roles.  Let me explain in a little more detail.  The film begins with rock singer Ellen Aim (a very young Diane Lane) being kidnapped in the middle of her own rocking concert by a biker gang, led by the dastardly Raven (Willem Dafoe).  The only person that can rescue her is her ex-boyfriend/mercenary Tom Cody (Michael Paré), along with some help from Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.  Sound pretty interesting, right?

And that’s really the saddest thing.  This movie should be so much better.  It has a fun idea for a plot.  And despite my initial skepticism of the 80s power pop musical sequences for a film that is so obviously set in the 50s, the music is possibly the best part.  I loved those things.  But a story is not supported simply by the basic plot and some incredible tunes.  You need to have strong characters to carry the story.  I would say this is necessary most of the time, but when you’re trying to give the audience a summer blockbuster action musical, it’s especially important.

And that is where Streets of Fire falters.  This film is completely miscast.  Michael Paré, whose other claim to fame is Eddie and the Cruisers, does not pull off the action hero role here.  I’m guessing he was supposed to be a romantic version of John Rambo, a man changed by war into something those around him can’t comprehend.  That is not how he comes off though.  He seems to be a shy, introverted individual who was forced to do action hero stunts by a director who had horribly miscast him.  Diane Lane, our glamorous leading lady, barely says two sentences in the entire film.

Add to that, Rick Moranis and Willem Dafoe, and you’ve got a complete package of awkwardness.  Moranis plays the least humorous, and most unlikable character in the movie.  I don’t know if he was trying new things, but it didn’t work here.  And Dafoe seemed liked he was doing a 1950s interpretation of Adam Ant for the entire film.  Having trouble imagining that?  That’s because it should never happen.

So, you have to wonder, what has made this movie something of a cult classic?  Why do people remember it, and once they have, why would they watch it again?  Two reasons.  First, this film does have the same feel that The Warriors did.  It takes place in a version of a city that you feel could be real, but you know never was.  And the supporting characters keep up that illusion.  Namely, Bill Paxton as a dim-witted bartender and the fictional Doo-Wop group “The Sorels”.

But the biggest reason to watch this movie is the music.  The two songs that are performed by “Ellen Aim and the Attackers” were actually written by Jim Steinman, the man behind Meat Loaf’s greatest hits.  If you can imagine epic, over-the-top, 80s power rock in a 1950s setting then you know that it’s a weird idea.  But they totally pulled it off here.  I may never watch this entire movie again, but I’ve watched Ellen Aim’s concert at least three times since I finished the movie, and I’ve listened to the songs online multiple times as well.

Is that enough of a reason to watch the film?  I’ll let you decide that.  It’s a fun little piece of 80s nostalgia, but I would never refer to it as a classic.

P.S.  This is on Netflix instant if you want to give it try.

-david

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2 Responses to “Cult Classics: Streets of Fire”

  1. jblakepalmer September 27, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Just finished this one, and I’ll admit it. I liked it way more than I should have.

    • iamhrothgar September 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      I know right! I think its the music, it just sucks you in and forces you to enjoy it. Even when its pretty terrible.

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