We Want Action: Streets Of Fire (1984)

streets of fire poster

Walter Hill is a fascinating director to me. I discovered The Warriors in high school and it changed my brain. It felt like someone who loved comic books, taking some of the crazy, garish characters and putting them into the real world and still making it feel really real and believable even when tinged with healthy doses of melodrama. Even with as influential as that film was to me, though, I haven’t really actively sought out his other films. Sure, I’ve seen the 48 Hours movies and Last Man Standing, but that was before I realized he made those films. When I saw his 1984 film Streets Of Fire on Netflix Instant, I was super excited to give it a watch. When the titles started popping up and one of them said I was about to watch “A rock and roll fable” I got even more excited.

The film follows gun-for-hire Tom Cody (Michael Pare) as he gets hired by Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to save rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of thugs lead by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Tom brings along new acquaintance McCoy (Amy Madigan) to help out. The structure of this film is actually very similar to that of The Warriors but in a slightly different order. The hero has a mission, he gets a girl, he and his crew do their best to get back to safety and then at the end there’s a showdown behind the good guy and bad guy while a small army of armed people stand around and watch. Hell, there’s even a scene where the subway trains aren’t working because someone set fire to them! As if all that wasn’t enough, some of the Warriors cast members pop up in this film like Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy) as Tom’s sister and even Lynne Thigpen who played the DJ in the previous movie popped up as a cop (interestingly enough telling the leads about the train fire). The beginning of the two films are also really similar from an editing standpoint. Heck, McCoy even kind of looks like Swan.

The story itself is set in a weird world that seems sort of 50s, but created through the prism of the 80s. You’ll understand what I mean by watching just about any scene set in a club. It feels like you’re just as likely to see some guy doing his best Johnny Cash impression or his best Stray Cats impression up on stage and that’s pretty much what you get. Every music number also has that feel too which kind of makes me wonder if Hill wanted to get into the music video game.

Anyway, even with as silly and affected as the film might feel, there’s still some real issues going on here. McCoy has to deal with all kinds of gender nonsense and does her best, but we can see her cracks. She just wants acceptance and friends (who doesn’t?). Meanwhile, our hero Tom is a total tough guy who’s clearly in love with Ellen, but he just doesn’t know how to tell her AND he doesn’t know how to do the obvious which is get the hell out of his crappy live and just move somewhere else. So there’s some stuff going on, but you’ve got to get through some of the veneer to get there, again, much like The Warriors.

I hate to keep comparing Hill movies here, but I do want to point one more thing out. The climax of the film involves the aforementioned showdown between Tom and Raven on the streets surrounded by allies on both sides. But, instead of fighting with fists or knives, they start going at it with crazy prospecting hammers but without the super pointy end. It’s a pretty bonkers scene, but it instantly reminded me of the trailers I’ve seen from Hill’s last movie Bullet To The Head where Sylvester Stallone has a freaking axe fight with Jason Momoa. Now, I haven’t seen that movie yet, but it’s interesting that Hill went back to that well. It makes me want to watch the rest of his movies to see what other elements he uses over and over again or if I’ve seen them all at this point. Still, Streets of Fire is a unique, offbeat little movie that does a lot of the same things Warriors does in both theme and content. I’d probably have fallen in love with it had I also seen it in high school, but the adult version of me saw a lot of the affectedness going on and couldn’t fully commit.

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