Streets of Fire July 12, 2016
Streets of Fire is little more than a ninety-minute-long music video (sonically, I mean), and that’s what I like best about it. Described as “A Rock & Roll Fable” in its opening credits and in its advertisements, it’s unapologetic in its sound and its fury — it’s an exercise in style unafraid of its insubstantiality. It sets out to be an orgy of visual and atmospheric electricity and does so with creative sanguineness that works much more often than it doesn’t. I’m not so sure the film’s story is as incendiary as its aesthetic voluptuousness, but in the scope of a said rock and roll fable, the absence of a sturdy storyline is excusable.
Co-written (with Larry Gross) and directed by Walter Hill, one of the most undervalued filmmakers of the 1970s and ‘80s, Streets of Fire stars Michael Paré as Tom Cody, an ex-soldier hired to rescue his former girlfriend, Ellen (Diane Lane), a rock singer whom has been kidnapped by a gaggle of vicious bikers. Aided by McCoy (Amy Madigan), a tough-as-nails street fixture, and Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), Ellen’s current lover, salvation seems imminent, considering the hardened scrappiness that backs the trio. But because the bikers, known to most as The Bombers (led by a young Willem Dafoe), are wired with a brutality that turns patience into an unheard-of virtue, one can only hope that our heroes can find victory in this race against time.
And while Streets of Fire’s race against time isn’t quite the pulse-pounding adventure we’d like it to be — it’s too in love with its attitude and its characters to put all its attention onto concocting tense thrills — the film, nonetheless, is a memorable one because its images are so stunning, because its swagger is so tangible. Hill’s impertinence is something to behold: just look at the way he captures characteristics of the 1950s, the 1980s, and a dystopian future, and how he integrates the greatest components of the film noir, the musical, and the ballsy action movie, with shameless enthusiasm, no less. Look and tone is what he’s after, and Hill, fortunately, has the lusty envisioning necessary to pull off such daring.
I do wish its elite imagery were matched by a suspenseful story — its performers, especially the campily rough Paré and the smack-talking Madigan, are deserving of material more indebted to them than to their surroundings — but when a movie is as splendidly shot as Streets of Fire is, it’s difficult to nitpick through faults when it all was never meant to be classified as high entertainment. The movie wants to be optically stimulating and appealing to youthful fantasy, and its proficiency is something to behold. B