Streets Of Fire review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

Wal­ter Hill and John Car­penter are, I think, two dir­ect­ors with some sim­il­ar­it­ies to each other. Wal­ter Hill per­haps isn’t so fam­ous by vir­tue of not plas­ter­ing his name above the title of his every film (some­thing which is now actu­ally a hindrance in Car­penter’s down­turned career). While Car­penterfocused more on hor­ror, Hill focused more on urban crime. But they both have (or had) a gift for eco­nom­ical story telling, and styl­ish viol­ence. It’s easy to ima­gine Car­penter dir­ect­ing some­thing like The War­ri­ors, if Hillhadn’t got there first.

Streets of Fire, a 1984 oddity that I’d some­how missed up until now, is one of Wal­ter Hill’s rare attempts at dir­ect­ing sci­ence fiction/fantasy (although he’s dabbled plenty as writer and pro­du­cer). Again, it’s the sort of mater­ial Car­penter him­self might have gone for, back in the day.

It’s a strange movie, make no mis­take. But always fun and inter­est­ing because of it. It’s set in some sort of altern­ate uni­verse — “Another time, another place…” the movie pro­claims at the begin­ning — where fash­ion and music from the nineteen-eighties has col­lided with fash­ion and music from the nineteen-fifties, giv­ing the film a retro-futuristic look that’s dated sur­pris­ingly well, even in spite of Willem Dafoe’s black rub­ber dun­gar­ees that he likes to chill out in. The lan­guage is a mix of mod­ern and tough talk­ing, like in a hard-boiled fifties movie where every­one is try­ing to be a wise ass.

The storyline is simple. Diane Lane is a pop sen­sa­tion, pack­ing in the crowds every night who listen to her big, cheesy, eighties power bal­lads. But who’s that in the shad­ows? It’s evil biker, Willem Dafoe, and his gang of ne’er-do-wells. For entirely evil, selfish reas­ons, Dafoe kid­naps Lane. It’s then up to sol­dier, and ex-boyfriend, Michael Paré to head deep into biker ter­rit­ory and res­cue her.

That’s it. Truth­fully, you could write the plot on the back of a post­age stamp. It’s almost videogame-like in its sim­pli­city. And after all, there were plenty of eighties video­games where tough guys had to res­cue their girl­friends from gangs of street thugs. Some enter­pris­ing game developer could have adap­ted Streets of Fire into a side scrolling beat ‘em up, chucked in a car level or two, and fin­ished up with a faith­ful exper­i­ence. Even the title comes ready-made to cap­ture the eye of your aver­age gamer.

The film’s sim­pli­city is not a weak­ness though. It’s a strength. Some­times, it’s refresh­ing to watch a movie where the plot isn’t end­lessly twist­ing on itself. You could argue Streets of Fire is full of char­ac­ters we’ve seen before: the tough hero, the dam­sel in dis­tress, and the irre­deem­ably evil bad guy to name just three. But in the con­text of the altern­ate world that Wal­ter Hill has cre­ated, they work. Char­ac­ters some­times refer to where they’re liv­ing as a shit hole. But it looks like a great place to hang out. Sure, there might be trouble on most street corners, and there’s also a war briefly men­tioned (which the film’s hero, Michael Paré, has just returned from), which hints at some­thing maybe apo­ca­lyptic and even more dan­ger­ous than the city itself.

But there’s always a feel­ing that no mat­ter what hap­pens, even­tu­ally good will tri­umph over evil. After­wards, you can enjoy a cup of cof­fee in the diner, then head over the street where everyone’s cel­eb­rat­ing evil get­ting its ass kicked with an elab­or­ate rock con­cert, glit­ter­ing with neon and swirl­ing with smoke, and lots of fist pump­ing the air to the beat of a soar­ing power ballad.

If, like me, you let Streets of Fire slip through the net (it was a pretty big flop, so I ima­gine it slipped through a lot of nets), have a soft spot for eighties movies, and can just about stom­ach the sight of Dafoe in rub­ber, you’ll get a kick out of what seems to be an under­rated and largely for­got­ten film.