File this one under your mileage may vary…
Okay, so here’s the deal. I know that this 1984 film has a strong cult following. A few months ago, I was at the Alamo Drafthouse when they played the trailer and announced a one-night showing and the people sitting in front of me got so excited that it was kind of creepy. I mean, I understand that there are people who absolutely love Streets of Fire but I just watched it and it didn’t really do much for me.
Now, that may not sound like a big deal because, obviously, not everyone is going to love the same movies as everyone else. I love Black Swan but I have friends who absolutely hate it. Arleigh and I still argue about Avatar. Leonard and I still yell at each other about Aaron Sorkin. Erin makes fun of me for watching The Bachelorette. Jedadiah Leland doesn’t share my appreciation for Big Brother and the Trashfilm Guru and I may agree about Twin Peaks but we don’t necessarily agree about whether or not socialism is a good idea. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with healthy and respectful disagreement!
But the thing is — Streets of Fire seems like the sort of film that I should love.
It’s a musical. I love musicals!
It’s highly stylized! I love stylish movies!
It’s from the 80s! I love the 80s films! (Well, most 80s films… if the opening credits are in pink neon, chances are I’ll end up liking the film…)
It takes place in a city where it never seems to stop raining. Even though the neon-decorated sets give the location a futuristic feel, everyone in the city seems to have escaped from the 50s. It’s the type of city where people drive vintage cars and you can tell that one guy is supposed to be a badass because he owns a convertible. All of the bad guys ride motorcycles, wear leather jackets, and look like they should be appearing in a community theater production of Grease.
Singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) has been kidnapped by the Bombers, a biker gang led by Raven (Willem DaFoe). Ellen’s manager and lover, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), hires Tom Cody (Michael Pare) to rescue Ellen. Little does Billy know that Cody and Ellen used to be lovers. Cody is apparently a legendary figure in the city. As soon as he drives into town, people starting talking about how “he’s back.” The police see Cody and automatically tell him not to start any trouble. Raven says that he’s not scared of Cody and everyone rolls their eyes!
It’s up to Cody to track Ellen down and rescue her from Raven and … well, that’s pretty much what he does. I think that was part of the problem. After all of the build-up, it’s all a bit anti-climatic. It doesn’t take much effort for Cody to find Ellen. After Cody escapes with Ellen, it doesn’t take Raven much effort to track down Cody. It all leads to a fist fight but who cares? As a viewer, you spend the entire film waiting for some sort of big scene or exciting action sequence and it never arrives. The film was so busy being stylish that it forgot to actually come up with a compelling story.
I think it also would have helped if Tom Cody had been played by an actor who had a bit more charisma than Michael Pare. Pare is too young and too stiff for the role. It doesn’t help to have everyone talking about what a badass Tom Cody is when the actor playing him doesn’t seem to be quite sure what the movie’s about. Also miscast is Diane Lane, who tries to be headstrong but just comes across as being petulant. When Cody and Ellen get together, they all the chemistry of laundry drying on a clothesline.
On the positive side, Willem DaFoe is believably dangerous as Raven and Amy Madigan gets to play an ass-kicking mercenary named McCoy. In fact, if McCoy had been the main character, Streets of Fire probably would have been a lot more interesting.
I guess Streets of Fire is just going to have to be one of those cult films that I just don’t get.