Neon reflects off rain soaked tarmac. A train rattles overhead. A returning soldier rocks up at a 50s Diner on the wrong side of the tracks. A young white girl plays at being Tina Turner to a baying crowd. Rick Moranis wears a bowtie. And someone, very pale and fierce, emerges from the shadows.
Welcome to the world of Streets of Fire, a Rock ‘n’ Roll fable mixing myth, comic books and Americana, into a concoction best described simply as a Walter Hill film.
In ‘Another Time, Another Place’ driven by music and violence the singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped mid-performance by the leader of the local biker gang prompting her ex-beau Tom Cody (Michael Paré) to take on all comers in the name of love and Rock ‘n Roll.
Our hero has the look and name of a Mills and Boon cover star and about as much depth but he’s surrounded by a suitably eccentric supporting cast. So we have Rick Moranis reeling off pitter-patter dialogue; Amy Madigan doing well in the spunky sidekick role; Bill Paxton as a sublime slimeball barman, threatening to steal the film any time he’s on screen; and Willem Dafoe adding welcome spice to the thinly drawn villain (and who else could carry off the combo of a greasy Flock of Seagulls quiff and black rubber waders?).
Hill is above all a stylist and you can’t accuse him of underplaying his hand. Unfortunately what at the time must have been bold and striking has now been overtaken by the hundreds of music videos that followed. The use of 50s iconography, 80s hairstyles, cut-out characterisation, Armani costumes, and jagged editing all mean Hill’s film is closer to Chris Isaak than Elia Kazan.
Diane Lane convinces as the Rock starlet, although you feel that her and Michael Paré’s characters should be a decade older than they are – but who needs reality when you’ve got Rock n Roll? Fatally, the music is a let down. Originally intending to use original songs from the 50s and early 60s Hill had his arm twisted by the studio to create fresh tunes. He approached Bruce Springsteen (whose lyrics gave the film its title) but that didn’t come off and what we’re left with is a mish-mash of stadium rock with Ellen Aim shouting out a second-rate “I need a hero”. The incidental score courtesy of Ry Cooder is more successful but the damage has been done.
Despite the money spent this world seems oddly limited. The main stretch of road under the L-train tracks provides a lavish backdrop but is traversed endlessly throughout the movie, making you feel the title could simply be Street of Fire.
For action cinema to work the drive of the characters must be pure and primal and the story vital. Streets of Fire doesn’t quite pull off the delicate trick achieved by Walter Hill in The Warriors but this still remains an enjoyable neon soaked oddity.
‘Streets of Fire’ is available on Blu-ray now.