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For, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This cult favorite was released in a collector’s edition by the Shout! Factory last year but now a new Steelbook collectible edition is out, although there is nothing new on the disc. Here’s my review, published on June 7, 1984, in the Deseret News.

“Streets of Fire” is a difficult film to describe, as it is part western (though futuristic in setting), part concert (two major concert scenes, opening and closing the film) and mostly rock video.

There’s no depth here, no multi-dimensional characters, no originality of script — everything about this film is glitter and superficiality and homage (some might say rip-off).

And yet … something about it is rather appealing.

Reportedly intended as the first of a trilogy about Tom Cody, a kind of wandering bounty hunter in a comic book world (the setting is described in the film as merely “another time, another place”), “Streets of Fire” opens with a rousing rock concert wherein a rock star, Ellen Aim, is kidnapped on stage by a particularly nasty bunch of bikers.

Cody’s sister, owner-operator of a local diner, writes him a letter, asking that he come and rescue Aim as the police are inefficient and ineffectual. Aim and Cody had a “thing” for each other years before, but she let him go because her music was more important to her. And, to quote Cody, “I ain’t the kinda guy who’ll follow you carrying your guitars.”

No, he ain’t. He’s more the kind of guy who’ll rescue Aim in a wild, free-for-all explosion of violence, then hang around for a while to see that the entire block blows up.


    Amy Madigan, Michael Paré, 'Streets of Fire' lobby card

All of this, and much more, is given to us with a hard rhythm background and low-key lighting, never letting us forget its origins. In fact, all of the sets — from the concert hall and diner to the streets — look dingy and dirty. The outdoor setting appears to be left over from “Blade Runner,” resembling Chicago’s Loop with its elevated trains.

And, as a friend mentioned afterward, the film as a whole seems to be “The Searchers” meets “Escape from New York,” with bits and pieces of a lot of other movies thrown in from time to time.

Director Walter Hill, who also co-wrote the script, does a lot of gritty, streetwise movies, from his actual western, “The Long Riders,” to his pseudo-westerns, “The Warriors” and “48 HRS.” And “Streets of Fire” resembles all of those — though most starkly “The Warriors” (right down to casting Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Cody’s sister; she played a prominent character in “The Warriors”).

Tom Cody is very much John Wayne, by way of Marlon Brando, as played by Michael Paré, whose “Eddie and the Cruisers” last year was notable mostly for his presence. And the dialogue is very much Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” — all clipped and sardonically humorous.

The casting is good, from Paré’s Cody to Diane Lane’s rock singer (she doesn’t really sing here, by the way — her singing voice is three singers electronically combined) to Rick Moranis (“SCTV”) as her wormy manager to Willem Dafoe, appropriately menacing as the chief villain.

It is Amy Madigan (“Love Child,” “Love Letters”) who steals the show, however, as the tough-as-nails sidekick Cody picks up in a bar, both of them being recently discharged soldiers on the prowl. Her role was originally written for a man but was changed to suit her — and she’s great.

But like the rock videos that inspired this film’s style, everything here is on the surface. If you go to “Streets of Fire” just looking for a 90-minute high, some easy escape, you will likely have a lot of fun. But if you want something to sink your teeth into, buy a steak.

Rated PG for its violence and nudity (a dancer/stripper in the bikers’ club), along with some profanity, “Streets of Fire” is an interesting variation on the recent spate of video-style movies, from “Flashdance” to “Footloose.” But in a way, it’s better than any of them, because it knows enough not to take itself seriously.