Full disclosure: I love Streets of Fire. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I love it as an adult. It labels itself as a Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable, and it plays out like an extended music video. If you’ve never heard of this ’80s masterpiece, check out the trailer below.
To give you a quick overview: Tom Cody (Michael Pare) comes back to his home town to rescue his ex girlfriend, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane). Ellen was kidnapped by a dangerous gang, led by the mysterious Raven (Willem Dafoe). This movie also made me realize that Dafoe is actually really attractive — no, I’m not kidding.
The plot is simple, but it works. This isn’t a movie you need to think long and hard about, though some viewers may wonder what time period the film is set in. With heavy elements from the 1950s and 1980s blended in seamlessly together, it may be safe to say that director Walter Hill wanted the movie to be timeless. The ambiguous setting works perfect with that idea.
The cast is fairly solid, as well. Aside from the actors mentioned above, the movie also stars Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan, who add some much-needed comic relief through the film. Lane gives the strongest performance of the movie, though, playing off a damsel in distress who thinks she’s too good for Pare’s Cody.
Without a doubt though, the soundtrack is the real star of the show. We open with ‘Nowhere Fast’ and end with ‘Tonight It What It Means To Be Young’, which is one of my favorite songs. The album only lists “Fire Inc” as the band that performs these songs, but thanks to technology, we now know it was Holly Sherwood and Laurie Sargent delivering those amazing vocals. Both songs were written by Jim Steinman, who reportedly wasn’t impressed by the script. He was convinced the movie would flop — and well, it did.
Frankly, the entire soundtrack is gold. Most people will recognize a majority of the songs on it, and many of them still get radio time today. The backup band you see in the video — The Attackers — were the real-life bandmates of Laurie Sargent. The band, known as Face To Face, was popular in the Boston area.
Streets of Fire was supposed to be the first movie in a trilogy of films, focusing on the character Tom Cody. Sadly, this never happened, but it’s pretty clear to see why. Don’t get me wrong — I love this movie, but the writing and some of the acting is just terrible. The editing, however, is stylish and works well in the film. The opening and closing scenes alone are beautiful, and are worth watching.
But why did the movie flop? Director Walter Hill thought he had the perfect movie, as it combined all of this favorite things: “Custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor.” My guess would be the script, and well, Pare as the lead.
Pare is easy on the eyes, but he stumbles over the majority of his lines. He is arguably the weakest actor in the movie (especially compared to Lane and Dafoe), and he’s also the lead. There’s very little reaction from Cody, who seems to just go with the flow. The only time you see his face change is during the big fight at the end.
Plus, his character punches Lane in the face after she asks him a question. It’s so over the top and so out of the blue that I felt an immediate disconnect from the character. This is just poor writing, culminating in a very underdeveloped character.
In the end, this is still a fantastically enjoyable film. I’m still holding out for the followup movies, but I know that’ll never happen. There’s a special edition Blu-ray out for it, though I have yet to pick it up. I still have a copy on LaserDisc, and my player still works (but I also have it on DVD since approximately 0% of my friends own an LD player). If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. Because after all, tonight is what it means to be young.