Streets of Fire (1984)

Do you like the 1950’s and the 1980’s and just can’t decide between the two? No problem, there’s a movie for that! Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire doesn’t feel the need to define its setting in space or time. It is, after all, a “rock and roll fable;” a tale of love and drama so unrealistic and over-the-top it just wouldn’t make sense to give it a familiar setting. We’re notified right off the bat we’re going to be spending the next 93-minutes in “a different place, a different time,” and certainly these Streets of Fire don’t look like any I’ve ever seen…

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous... Ellen Aim...

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous… Ellen Aim…

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a local singer whose star is about to sky-rocket; she’s got an amazing stage presence and she’s screwing her producer, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Everyone in town flocks to the club when she’s on the stage. What could go wrong? The Bombers, that’s what! Within the first five minutes of the film, Ellen takes the stage, rocks the crowd and is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). The thugs steal her away to “the Battery;” the part of town where nice folks like you and me just don’t go. Not only do they manage to take her without a problem, they leave havoc in their wake; it seems like The Bombers can just take whatever they want without consequence. Or can they?

Bombers come to town

Bombers come to town

Oh, hell no they can’t, says Reva Cody, as she pulls up a typewriter and pleads for her brother Tom (Michael Paré) to come home and kick ass. See, Tom and Ellen used to have a real hot and heavy relationship, but Ellen’s career-driven nature didn’t jive well with Tom’s bad-boy attitude, and the couple just had to call it quits. Upon his return, Tom is reluctant to scour the depths of the Battery to save a woman who left a nasty taste in his mouth, but Reva’s plaintive eyes and Billy Fish’s $10,000 endorsement help change his mind.

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Tom’s going to need help. A trunk-full of artillery is a good start, but he’s going to need a trusty second to get him through the worst of it. Good thing Tom has stumbled upon McCoy (Amy Madigan), a brash, no-nonsense female mechanic freshly home from the military herself, looking for a place to sleep and a job to do. McCoy’s proven herself quite the badass (though anyone can punch Bill Paxton in the face, amirite?), and trustworthy, too, so Tom brings her along. And whether or not he likes it, Billy Fish is coming, too! Can this unlikely trio really go into the depths of urban decay and save Ellen?

When doesn't Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

When doesn’t Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

This movie is an incredibly delightful way to spend an hour and a half. As I mentioned before, the setting is fantastic in the sense that the total package bears little resemblance to any reality you or I are familiar with. This is no secret; from the very beginning we are well informed that we shouldn’t be asking too many questions in regards to the plot’s plausibility. And although the setting is unfamiliar in total, elements are lifted from all your favorite twentieth-century eras. Each character seems to be set in their own space and time; most of the Bombers are reminiscent of the 1950’s (though I’m not sure who ever wore that pleather onesie Dafoe dons halfway through the flick; yowza! Does dude work in an abattoir?) while Ellen is definitely a woman of the 1980’s, basking in synth-pop and eyeshadow. Then there’s Tom, who seems to be set apart from all the other characters wearing clothes and driving vehicles reminiscent of those you’d find in the 1920’s. The end-result is a pleasantly disorienting cast of anachronisms that all somehow manage to work together.



Personally, I think this is a genius way to keep the audience on board with the crazy plot that is about to unfold. There’s no need for the setting to be authentic or true to any one moment in time, because this is a story that just wouldn’t have happened. Like, ever. And maybe that’s why I like Streets of Fire more than other musicals like West Side Story or Grease; they’re so concerned with some measure of weird authenticity, and yet they’re fucking musicals. Like I’m supposed to believe these people just break out into song all the time, but god forbid the audience should question the authenticity of Maria’s clothes, or Rydell High’s school dance? Why is spontaneous song a more acceptable movie trope than Hill’s weird melange of historical trademarks? Now, I know, Streets of Fire is not a musical, but I still think it’s worth comparing it to one; not only is its drama similar to what you’d find in a musical, but the film itself is rooted heavily in music (songs by Ry Cooder, anyone?). I’m officially calling it the unmusical musical. But anyway, I digress…

You guys, it's a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

You guys, it’s a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

Clearly, I’m fixated on the weird setting in which Streets of Fire takes place, but fear not folks, there’s plenty of other weird stuff in store for you! The plot itself is bonkers; how is it so easy for this gang of greasers to waltz into a nightclub and kidnap the star of the show, and while she’s on stage no less? You know, like, in front of everyone? Is this a town full of wusses or what? And the thought of Billy Fish accompanying two badasses with nothing to lose into the sixth circle of hell for a woman who is really just eye candy to him, well that’s not really believable either. Weirder still are the relationships these people all have with one another, most notably Tom and Ellen’s. I’ve never met people that talk this way to each-other, which leads me to think Hill set this film not just in another place and time, but another solar system.streetsoffirelastkiss

I want to be clear about something, while I really like Streets of Fire, I don’t think I could go and say it’s actually a good movie. Worthwhile, yes. Entertaining, you betcha… but good? Not a chance in hell. But, I don’t think it wants to be good. There’s no Oscar bait here, and there’s a lot to be said for a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve while also trying to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest disappointment about the film for me is the fact that Diane Lane is pretty much wasted in this role. After having just recently watched Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for the first time and realizing how good Lane is at playing a put-out badass, I expected more out of her performance here. Unfortunately, she just isn’t given much to work with; she’s little more than a damsel in distress with a bad attitude. You can do better than that with Diane Lane! But anyway, I do recommend seeing Streets of Fire, just remember to let your mind go free and that anything can happen in Walter Hill’s world!


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