I will not bore you with the story of how I ended up with a copy of Streets of Fire, but let me assure you I did not pay a dime for it. Yet, ever inquisitive, without foreknowledge of the plot, never reading the back cover or looking it up on imdb.com I watched it. The front cover promises me a movie starring Michael Pare (who?), Diane Lane, and Willem Dafoe. The roughly sketched picture of a dashing guy holding a shotgun as a woman is holding on to him in front of gritty streets that do not appear to be on fire. I’m bold. I pop in the DVD and press play.
The first clue I’m in for a rough ride is the text reading: “A Rock ‘n Roll Fable.” Not a good start. Then more text: “Another Time . . . Another Place.” Based on these clues one might expect the Star Wars musical, but that’s not the case. Turns out we’re in the ‘50s of what I think is supposed to be Chicago or New York or maybe it doesn’t matter. It is a strange, ‘80s version of the ‘50s. Curious observation: The ‘50s movies about the ‘80s envisioned everyone riding in jet packs and living on moon colonies; ‘80s movies about the ‘50s portray everyone as an idiot. But I digress. . .
We start with a rock concert with future star Diane Lane as popstar Ellen Aim. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I find the song kind of catchy and Diane Lane looks extremely attractive as she “sings” her heart out to someone else’s voice. If there were a category for lip syncing, Diane would be more than a Academy Award nominee. I feel a glimmer of hope about Streets of Fire. Maybe this will be fun. A bowtie wearing Rick Moranis is offstage as Ellen Aim’s manager/boyfriend. All hope dies.
Enter the dreaded, leather clad motorcycle gang “The Bombers” being led by a young Willem Dafoe. Wow. I actually thought Willem Dafoe was one of those people who went straight from toddler to grizzled, odd-faced, mid-forties, so I’m a little thrown off by his appearance. Still, two future Academy Award nominees in the first four minutes is not a bad sign.
Apparently Dafoe agrees with me that Ellen Aim is beautiful and the song is catchy. Dafoe decides to kidnap Ellen. He and the rest of the Bombers concoct a brilliant strategy to follow her after the show and . . . just kidding! They actually just run on stage the instant Dafoe gets the urge, swinging away at the band and fans alike as Dafoe picks her up and carries her off. The Bombers earn kudos from me by punching Rick Moranis and, in a bit part, Bill Paxton.
Paxton looks like a geeky version of John Travolta in Grease here, and he gets to say my favorite line in Streets of Fire. To fully appreciate the line, picture this huge brawl well underway with vile bikers carrying off a damsel in distress, meanwhile greasy Paxton runs from the crowd, grabs a biker by the shoulder, and declares: “Hey, we don’t want no trouble!” To no one’s surprise, Paxton is punched in the face, ending a brief and promising career in diplomacy. We are left to imagine whether the biker punches Paxton’s character because they are punching everyone or if it’s because he just HATES double negatives.
Enter our hero, Cody (played by Michael Pare, multiple-time Academy Award viewer and future star of Blubberella). Cody is Ellen Aim’s ex-boyfriend, summoned by Cody’s sister to help retrieve the kidnapped popstar. The sister serves no purpose other than calling for Cody, providing some exposition about Cody and Ellen Aim’s previous relationship, and nagging Cody, so let’s move past her and back to our hero. If you don’t know who Michael Pare is (and who does, quite frankly?), picture a guy who looks kind of like a bored Brendan Fraser with the melodious voice of Sylvester Stallone.
I’m no fashion historian so I’m not sure in which decade Cody’s outfit — suspenders over a buttoned up, sleeveless, denim shirt — is cool. I’m going to try it this weekend and see I can’t bring it back in style. Cody quickly and platonically hooks up with a new, tough, gal pal and sidekick McCoy (Amy Madigan, ANOTHER future Academy Award nominee) and Rick Moranis’ obnoxious, jerk of a character, Fish (love these names!), and the three of them exchange bad-mannered, rat-ta-tat-crap flurries of dialogue like:
McCoy: “You wanna change this tire, shorty?”
Fish: “Changing tires isn’t exactly my line of work, dear.”
McCoy: “Then why don’t you just shut up!”
Finding where those nasty Bombers are keeping Ellen is not terribly difficult, as Fish guesses right the first time. A helpful bum (Ed Bagley, Jr., who refused to watch the Academy Awards in an effort to help save the planet) pinpoints the exact location after they reach abandoned-warehouse-alley-turned-biker-bar. Bikers are constantly popping wheelies outside their secret headquarters just in case you have a hard time finding it. Meanwhile, the stupid cops are looking for clues when they could have just guessed and then asked a helpful hobo (sans shotgun, sadly). Cody concocts an intricate plan to go in and get Ellen Aim. Well, the plan is to go in and get Ellen Aim is as complicated as the plan gets, actually.
Inside, Ellen Aim is tied to a bed with one arm in an upstairs bedroom of the warehouse/biker bar. I bet she regrets not going for that “untying knots with one hand” merit badge now! Also worth noting, she is wearing the same outfit, hairstyle, and make-up when she was kidnapped days earlier and looks no worse for wear (I’m assuming it’s been at least a week since the abduction, based on the evidence that Cody had to be called back to town and then killed more than a day before starting this rescue operation). Willem Dafoe is back, and he IS WEARING LEATHER OVERALLS, I kid you not. Is the man a pig-farmer who does the biker gangleader thing on the side?
Dafoe tells poor Ellen Aim that he just wants to spend sometime with her, maybe a week, and then he’ll let her go. This isn’t entirely unreasonable, as historians to us you had to do stuff like this to meet girls before there was eharmony.com. Just watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you doubt me.
Cue the rescue! Chaos ensues. Here is where the movie earns its title as everything our heroes shoot bursts into flames, from cars to motorcycles to buildings. Streets are on fire, people!
Cody, Fish, and McCoy get Ellen away safely after Cody and Dafoe have an epically stupid stare down. Our heroes have to escape back to their neighborhood doing so by hijacking the bus of a struggling, up-and-coming quartet (more music!).
To make a long story short, everything builds to a Cody vs. Dafoe brawl to settle the issue. Cody, to make sure his ex-girlfriend and one true love Ellen is safe during the brawl gets her on a train going out of town and knocks her out with a punch to the jaw, leaving her in the custody of McCoy as he goes to the ultimate showdown. No, that’s not a joke, but I wish it had been: he punches his true love in the face, and when she comes back to consciousness she is only slightly annoyed. Frankly, being tied to a bed for a week and getting to know the biker/pig farmer can’t be that bad in retrospect.
We get a big Cody vs. Dafoe sledgehammer duel as well as the tepid resolution to the Cody-Fish-Ellen Aim love triangle, and we end with an Ellen Aim concert, right back where we started.
You know, there’s a reason why no one has heard of Streets of Fire. There’s really nothing terribly enjoyable here, and I’m not sure who the audience was. It’s a PG movie (though they drop the “S” word several times and “G.D.” at least once) so I guess it’s for the kids, but I WAS a child of the 80s (this was released in 1984) and I never heard of this and have no doubt I’d have been bored by it even then. If you have to see Streets of Fire, I’d say one thing definitively: You’re better off raking leaves for an hour and a half.
I’m sure there’s a reason why the dvd has no special features has something to do with the talented part of the cast (Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, & Diane Lane) didn’t want to grant an interview much less do a commentary track. Heck, apparently even Rick Moranis and Michael Pare had too much dignity to participate. Pare who still acts in movies like the Sci-Fi Channel original Gargoylesand Uwe Boll films.
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