Case Number 00261

STREETS OF FIRE

Universal // 1984 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // January 12th, 2000

The Charge

A rock and roll fable.

Opening Statement

Wooden acting, barely adequate video transfer, but a quirky, campy movie with a great soundtrack. I love this movie!

The Evidence

Some movies just get under your skin. It might not have the best acting, the story might lack credibility, but you find yourself chuckling, perhaps even in the wrong places. With Streets of Fire, you combine some interesting characters in a setting that almost defies description. Most of the technology and setting is straight out of a '50s interpretation of New York. Spliced in it though is some '80s music and costuming. Some other elements are more fantasy based, giving it the "fable" quality it espouses. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but I can say this eclectic setting is one of the strong points of the movie, and is what separates it from a dozen other B movies. The supporting cast has some surprising names as well.

Basically, this is a story about a famous rock singer, Ellen Aim, played by the ravishing Diane Lane (Murder at 1600, Wild Bill, Judge Dredd) who is kidnapped off her stage by a bike gang led by William Dafoe (eXistenZ, The English Patient, Clear and Present Danger) playing Raven, the sometimes ridiculously dressed and would-be tough guy. Seeing him in some latex coverall without a shirt is one of the funniest (albeit unintentionally funny) moments in the film. At any rate, Michael Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers II, Philadelphia Experiment, Village of the Damned) plays Tom Cody, a gruff ex-soldier turned mercenary and ex-lover of Ellen Aim. His sister writes him to return home and rescue the lady. He quickly shows off his action skills by slapping a gang leader silly, trouncing his whole gang, and sending them running while keeping their car. Good stuff.

He meets one of my favorite characters in the movie in a bar, tended by Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13, True Lies) in a Fabian style hairdo. Amy Madigan (The Day After, The Dark Half, Field of Dreams) wife of actor Ed Harris plays McCoy, a gruff, hard hitting ex-soldier who punches out Paxton when he refuses to serve her. She and Cody instantly fall into like and mutual respect, and she asks for his help as she is between jobs. I think her acting is the best this film has to offer. Cody reluctantly decides to go into the Battery where the bike gang holds sway, and rescue the singer, but only if her manager and new lover will pay up. Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Spaceballs) is hilarious as the weasely manager Billy Fish, a big talking but cowardly antithesis to the macho Cody. While Cody dickers with the absurdly dressed Billy Fish, a typical wooden quote from Cody: "You smart guys. You always figure you can hire a bum like me to do your dirty work." McCoy convinces Cody to bring her along as backup, and the rescue begins. The rest of the film is the rescue, the troubles getting back home, and the inevitable showdown between Cody and Raven. Ed Begley Jr. (The Accidental Tourist, TV's "St. Elsewhere" and "7th Heaven") gets an honorable mention in a cameo for the best line: "Oh you're dumb. And you're short. Real short" to Moranis.

The film really shines in the action scenes. Blowing up motorcycles, other explosions, and plenty of fights keep the action level high. Director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Last Man Standing, Wild Bill) does a great job with the cameras, the pacing, and the story, which he also wrote. His other writing credits include Aliens, Red Heat, and The Getaway. The dark and gritty sets, vintage cars, the style and chemistry all work together for a great mindless flick.

This movie has often been compared to Escape from New York, and the comparison is a fair one. The feel of the movie, and the basic plot, are similar. Paré as Cody actually comes pretty close to the feel of Snake Plisskin. Both have an other-than-life comic book feel.

Colors are generally dark and muted, which is partially the fault of the transfer. But there is tons of neon lighting, which is very bright, and vibrant colors are seen here and there amongst the costumes. The soundtrack is where the disc really shines though. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track really kicks, with plenty of pans left and right and front to back, and your subwoofer will cry for mama if you don't have a decent one. Plenty of great music throughout ranging from '50s R&B to the energetic and out-of-time stylings of Ellen Aim (actually lip synched Jim Steinman numbers done by Fire Inc.) keep the rock and roll theme alive. Dialogue is crisp and centered, the front soundstage is wide, and it all gives you what you want out of a surround system.

As for extras, there aren't a lot. There are extensive production notes that describe the huge tented in area used to film much of the picture. In fact, it was the largest area ever enclosed for a picture, large enough for even the car-chase scenes. This enabled them to film the night scenes, which make up the majority of the film, at any hour. Minimal cast and crew bios and the theatrical trailer in full frame are all the rest of the extra content.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Well, first off, the case and menu artwork are really bad. Very bad. The transfer is a non-anamorphic 1.77:1 letterboxed, and has a number of problems such as being overly dark, with occasional grain, pixelation, and other artifacts. Flesh tones are adequate, but shadows suffer somewhat, making things a bit muddy at times. The disc was released in mid '98 so perhaps they weren't as knowledgeable as they are now, but that isn't much of an excuse, since the word is that the laserdisc has a better video transfer than the DVD. Certainly Michael Paré was too wooden in several of his lines, and at times William Dafoe was just comical rather than scary. But none of that dissuades me from loving this movie.

Closing Statement

If you've seen and like this film, get it. It's still better than VHS, especially for the 5.1 soundtrack, which is excellent. If you have it on laserdisc, well, then I'd probably pass. For the rest of you, I'd definitely rent it; it's a great way to spend an hour and a half.

The Verdict

The director and the film are acquitted. Michael Paré needs a bit of work as an actor, then can be one of the better action stars around. Universal is censured for releasing the video in this shape, and in non-anamorphic to boot, but is commended on the soundtrack. The extras are almost enough, but still wanting. They are learning, but we need to keep reminding them what we want.

Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 68
Audio: 97
Extras: 50
Acting: 50
Story: 85
Average: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Production Notes
* Trailer
* Cast and Crew Biographies

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0088194/combined