Bullet Points: Streets of Fire
“Don’t worry about it. They always hire bums like me for jobs like this.”
Those are the words that Tom Cody delivered to his worrisome sister as he strolled out the door, intent on somehow infiltrating the Bombers gang hideout and escaping with the beautiful woman they had just kidnapped. It seemed like it was a job that would almost certainly lead to Cody’s death but like in most action movies, an intelligent viewer will expect Cody to find the lovely Ellen (who just so happens to be his ex flame), pull her into his arms, and carry her out of that place with guns blazing. Streets of Fire does, in fact, follow many of the action hero tropes that we’ve come to know but its greatest moments are when it almost follows them, but doesn’t.
Synopsis: A mercenary (Michael Paré) is hired to rescue his ex-girlfriend (Diane Lane), a singer who has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang.
- Another Time, Another Place: Streets of Fire is a film that takes place in what I would best describe as an alternate universe of sorts. It feels like the 80’s with the music and all but everything looks like it’s straight up 1950’s. It reminded me a lot of the Tim Burton Batman films in a way.
- Checking the Boxes: Many of the characters are straight out of the “How to make fairy tale story” handbook. Apparently, that was by design as director Walter Hill wanted to make a film based on what he thought was the perfect tale from his teenage years. Think about it: cool cars, rock and roll music, biker gangs, kissing in the rain, shoot outs, a one-on-one fight with sledgehammers, and loads of good one-liners. Whatever he was trying to do he damn-well succeeded in my eyes.
- The Damsel: The always gorgeous Diane Lane plays the music goddess Ellen Aim. She’s kidnapped by a young and creepy looking Willem Dafoe and sends the heroic Tom Cody, played by Michael Paré, on a quest to rescue her. Lane was only 18 when she auditioned for the role and I don’t feel guilty at all by saying that she looks unbelievable in this movie. She’s the type of character that feels like someone who would have people risking their lives over. She’s taken in what turns out to be a pretty intense kidnapping scene by Dafoe and his gang of biker dudes and we’re never really told why it is that he snatched her (other than to be his love toy). Every scene with Diane Lane singing had me wishing that it was I who could put on a sweet duster jacket and hop on a motorcycle to rescue her.
- The Face of Evil: The aforementioned Willem Dafoe plays Raven, leader of the Bombers and all around weirdo. Most of the characters in the movie dress a little funny but Dafoe struts around for most of the film looking like one-part Mick Jagger and two-parts freaky latex fetish man. Besides for the kidnapping and subsequent attempt to re-kidnap Ellen, Raven and his gang don’t really do much of all other than get their asses handed to them by Tom Cody. The villains spend just enough time on screen to be menacing but not enough to take away from the story arc which is clearly about Tom Cody and Ellen Aim.
- Our Hero: There is little doubt that Michael Paré should have become a massive star after this movie. I kept trying to find a reason not to like his character (haters gonna hate) but he was so damned cool that I just couldn’t do it. Sure, he wasn’t built like Carl Weathers or anything but he was wearing a kickass duster and carrying a lever-action rifle. Those are LITERALLY two items that I have written in my will to be placed in my coffin after I die. Paré does most of his work with his eyes and his mouth. The writing is very sharp, making him out to not be the most brilliant guy in the world, but also to know that he’s basically just a grunt. Knowing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths. He also does an amazing job telling a story with the looks that he gives each of the other characters.
- Supporting Staff: Speaking of the other characters, Streets of Fire has an incredible supporting cast featuring Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton, Amy Madigan, and Richard Lawson. Amy Madigan is especially awesome as the sidekick to Cody who kicks nearly as much ass as he does. I’ve always thought that one of Walter Hill’s greatest strengths as a director was his ability to cast people for small roles. This movie has so recognizable actors in it for the genre fan that you’ll be busy pointing out actors for then entire film.
- A Tragic Hero: There isn’t an underlying sad story to this movie. It’s mostly a straight up fairy tale kind of story. It’s almost The Princess Bride, just with a bit of a twist at the end. To be honest, the way that the movie ends is my favorite part. It ends the way that Desperado should have ended, and how most movies featuring characters who have lived similar lives would probably end once the cameras stopped rolling.
Read these bonus Bullet Points before Willem swallows them whole:
- The one addition I would have made to the end of the film would have been for the local police to have been searching for Cody to give him a medal, but for him to have already dipped out and left town.
- Streets of Fire was intended to be the first film in a trilogy about Tom Cody but the film didn’t do well at the box office and no sequel ever made its way to screen.
- No one plays a coward quite like Bill Paxton.
The Verdict: As much as I loved Streets of Fire for its characters, its action scenes, its world-building, and its writing, the best thing about the movie might be the music. We mainly have Ry Cooder and Jim Steinman to thank for the music. I’m not sure which was stuck in my head longer, the music or the Diane Lane goodness. If you haven’t experienced Streets of Fire yet I would say that you need to find it on Amazon or Vudu or whatever it is that the kids use these days. It’s a marvelous film to share with friends.