This is one of those movies that pops up when anyone mentions the words “cheesy” and “eighties” in the same sentence. Because of my love for both of those words, I decided the time was right to check this flick out. Little did I know that that what I encountered was going to be a film at war with itself, a movie that tried to do so much and yet accomplished so little. Little did I know that I was going to see Willem Defoe in an outfit that would scar me for life.
In the not to distant future, in a post apocalyptic world, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a super popular rock artist in her little sector of the unnamed city. As she’s rocking out for a huge crowd, the evil and well coiffed Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe) abducts her to take back to his sector for some fun and games.
Luckily her ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Pare) arrives in town shortly afterward. Cody is a rough and tumble type who is willing to find Ellen deep in enemy territory… for a price. Ellen’s current boyfriend and manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) is willing to pay. So, along with the smart talking McCoy (Amy Madigan) the three journey into the danger zone. But even if they succeed, will Raven let them go? Or will the city burn with Streets of Fire?
- If you love cheesy 80s rock, then this movie is for you
- If you love ripe dialogue, then this movie is for you
- If you love saying, “Oh my god are they in this movie too?” then this movie is for you
- The movie does not have a constant sense of production design
- Seems to be flailing around looking for a plot or a point
- Willem Defoe’s leather overalls or whatever they are supposed to be… put on shirt man!
This movie is a glorious mess. It seems to have no idea what it’s doing or why it’s doing it. A mix of visual styles from the 40s, 50s and 80s merge with stereotype characters and dialogue that will make you groan. The songs are either a gift from the gods of cheese, or the kind of thing that makes you scream for mercy. It’s at once Escape from New York and West Side Story and yet, that can’t even describe it. Very entertaining, but not for the reasons it was intended to.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
I wonder if there was a point in the film where director Walter Hill looked at what was going on in front of him and said, “Oh, this isn’t going to work… is it?” But by that point it was too late, the film was well underway, Willem Dafoe was in his leather overalls and you just had to roll with it – and hope for the best.
I wonder if this was as cynical an exercise as it feels. It really feels like someone decided to make a film based solely off of what “kids these days” like. And by “these days” I mean 1984. It’s got the Jim Steinman penned songs (and if you are familiar with “Making Love out of nothing at all” or “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or most of the songs by Meatloaf, then you know Steinman). It’s got the retro 50s look and songs that groups like The Stray Cats made popular. It had the gangs running the city that we saw in Escape from New York. Our hero was more like Indiana Jones than anything else. But there were plenty of explosions to make the film live up to the title Streets of Fire. Take all these elements then stir them up with a whole case of familiar faces including Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Ed Begley Jr. Elizabeth Dailey, Rick Rossavich and plenty of others you’ll recognize by sight if not by name. The result has to stick in some way.
Yes, it does stick. The whole thing can only be viewed as a cinematic mess of slop, or it’s just an entertaining movie because it is so wonderfully messy. Now usually a movie as cynical as this (if it was in fact as calculated as I think it was) ends up feeling soulless. See the latest version of Clash of the Titans for proof of that. But I get the feeling that most of the folks on the screen decided to just go for it and have a good time. So the movie ends up being ridiculous and yet not completely aware of the joke. Oh there are times where a wink is given at the audience, but most of the time it’s played very serious – and it’s better for it.
The odd thing is that our two main characters Tom Cody and Ellen Aim are the least interesting folks of the bunch. This doesn’t reflect on the acting by Pare or Lane. It’s just that the characters are written pretty blandly. Cody is a typical tough guy of the 40s mold, with a heart of gold, of course. Aim is just a typical rocker seeking fame and fortune that’s always had a soft spot for Cody. That’s all these characters ever really are.
Compared to the other bizarre, over the top and more interesting characters in Streets of Fire, they don’t stand a chance. My favorite was McCoy, the tough talking spitfire portrayed by Amy Madigan. She nails the role, playing it a bit broad, but feeling right at home in the overstated production around her. On top of that, her character seems to have a back-story and personality that could support a whole film. She should have been our hero!
As outrageous as Dafoe is, he fits perfectly in the role of Raven. His natural presence combined with the makeup, hair and wardrobe make him a scary villain. No sane person would dare be seeing in public like that, especially in front of a mess of evil bikers in black leather. And when your gang contains Mr. Body from Clue you know you’re in for some danger.
But then there are all kinds of odd characters thrown in here. Moranis’ Fish is a loud mouth trash-talking snob… with a heart of gold? Bill Paxton plays Clyde the Bartender, an idiot with a blacked out tooth and … a heart of gold? Then there’s Elizabeth Daily who plays Baby Doll. This little groupie shows up for no reason, stays around for no reason and really has no reason to be in the movie other than to wear hot pink and… you guessed it, have a heart of gold.
I could keep going, but I think you really need to check out Streets of Fire to truly experience it.