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Rated PG
Copyright 1984 RKO Pictures
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 20 December 2008

The Characters:  

  • Tom Cody - A rebellious brawler with a lot of rough edges, but the heart of a prince. While Tom might not always do the right thing in the heat of the moment, you can count on him in the end. This was a role made for Michael Paré.
  • Ellen Aim - Diane Lane! She wears a low-cut red dress that is split all the way up to her hips, black evening gloves, and a black fabric choker. Rowllll!
  • McCoy - She's so tough that she sounds like she has ten pounds of gravel in her throat.
  • Billy Fish - Rick Moranis! Ellen's manager. If there was ever a fish out of water, it would be Rick Moranis in the middle of a rock & roll wasteland. He did not need the ugly suit (egad, that thing is awful) or loudmouth persona to make me hate him. I hate him. For some reason, Ellen Aim has been shacking up with the little turd. I hate him.
  • Reva Cody - If my big sister ever sent me a telegram that I needed to come home and rescue an ex-girlfriend from a motorcycle gang, I might tell her to take a flying leap. Well, unless the ex-girlfriend was Ellen Aim.
  • The Sorels - They're like The Temptations, but with an uglier bus.
  • Clyde - Bill Paxton! He is just there so that McCoy has somebody to beat up. Until 1993 (or so) Bill Paxton had three secondary functions: to be beat up, to get wiped out, or to be mocked. His primary function was always that of a loudmouth jerk.
  • Officer Ed Price - The Ardmore police's uniforms are pretty spiffy.
  • Raven Shaddock - Willem Dafoe! The leader of the Bombers. This guy is INSANE. Just looking at the black rubber overalls that he wears makes my nether regions break out in a sweat.
  • The Bombers - If this motorcycle gang donated their pants and jackets to charity, more than 6000 naked cows could be saved.
  • The cast as a whole - An 80's retro rock & roll dream come true.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

I first watched "Streets of Fire" sometime around 1987, and I was floored by it. The film is an incredible mix of music, dialog, and violence. One of its taglines is "A Rock & Roll Fable." That is a perfect way to describe this combination of the past and fantasy. If that is not enough to make a fourteen-year-old love a movie, then the poster has to be. It is one of my favorite movie posters.

Something that I always liked about the music was that it sounded so much like Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" album. Oh, wait a minute, that is because the same man who wrote songs for Meatloaf also wrote a number of the songs for this. Funny coincidence.

The movie begins with Ellen Aim playing a concert in her old stomping grounds, part of Bay City called Ardmore. Most of the film takes place in either the gritty residential Ardmore district or the decaying and lawless section called The Battery. Ardmore is home to the city's working class, and its main feature is the columns supporting the raised railway line. Bay City is, as a whole, an industrial city - lots of dark atmosphere, old cars, and disinterested people. It is a great setting. The Battery is to Bay City what The Bronx used to be to New York City. Not a whole lot of opera houses or espresso shops in the district, nor any police officers, and the Bombers like it that way.

Anyway, where was I before the detailed settings distracted me? Oh yes, the Ellen Aim concert. The Bombers crash the concert and kidnap the female rock star right off of the stage! Grabbing the lovely singer is easy since the only people who try to defend her are The Attackers. That might sound impressive, but The Attackers are Ellen's band - just a couple of musicians in white tuxedos. Not the sort of people who you want as the only thing between you and twenty maniac bikers. However, even the police are out of their league. Officer Price tries to intervene, but dozens of leather-clad zealots completely demolish the police car. The only reason our world does not descend into anarchy is that for every crazy biker there are a hundred regular citizens. Bay City seems to have crazy bikers in spades, and right now that imbalance is stealing Ellen and trashing Ardmore. After they finish making a mess of the town they return, with Ellen, to The Battery.

The police are not going to roll into The Battery and free Ellen. Something has to be done, but what? Reva knows exactly what to do; she sends a telegram to her brother asking him to come home (the little 50's touches like the telegram really make the film). Let me tell you about Cody: he would do almost anything for his sister, and absolutely anything for Ellen. Even take on every Bomber in The Battery. To do that he is going to need a little help. Some of that help comes in the form of a stunning assortment of custom chrome weapons he buys from the local garage. Another boon is meeting McCoy, as she is almost as tough as Tom and needs a job (like breaking a female rock star out of The Battery).

To rescue Ellen, which he really wants to do, Cody needs just one more thing: an excuse. He split the scene years before when Ellen's singing career took off. Suddenly appearing out of nowhere and rescuing her would be tantamount to admitting he still has feelings for Ellen. That cannot be. Luckily, Billy Fish provides Cody with the perfect patsy. The little jerk has plenty of money in the bank; he can pay Tom ten thousand dollars to rescue the hostage princess.

Introducing Fish to the story has the benefit of providing someone for McCoy to berate and revile. Most of the character interaction in "Streets of Fire" is marked by sharp, antagonistic dialog. People do not talk that way all the time. Well, not without punching each other out on occasion (hmmm...that does happen here). The reason I think it works in this case is that the audience does not have any point of reference as to how these people should interact. The movie is set in a rock & roll fantasy. So, instead of the real world dictating how the characters should talk, the film imposes its rules on the audience, and it is quite successful.

After snatching Ellen Aim, Raven took her back to the heart of The Battery, a big club called Torchy's. Tom's plan to rescue his ex-girlfriend is pretty simple. He takes up a position on the roof and starts shooting bikes (vice bikers) while McCoy works her way through the confusion. Fifteen or twenty burning motorcycles later, Cody has his princess back. Now the problem is just returning to Ardmore without getting caught by the Bombers or picked up by the cops.

Before departing from The Battery, Cody meets Raven in a flame-filled alley. The two men size each other up. Even though he is impressed with Cody's moxie, Raven promises the hero that they will meet again. Cody is less than impressed (Michael Paré has a knack for acting "I'm not impressed").

Having his sexy female meal ticket returned is good for Fish, but the fact that Tom is Ellen's old flame worries the obnoxious twerp: Fish is jealous. He is also up a creek without a paddle. Maybe women started liking rich little jerkwads in 80's, but this is set in another time and place. Ellen wants to fall in love with Cody again, but the hero's insistence that he only did it for the money wounds her. So, Ellen returns to cozying up to Fish to get back at her old flame. The reason Tom told Ellen that he rescued her for a reward was to protect his pride. Seeing her snuggling with that whining little suit is probably more pain than simply admitting, "I missed you, too."

One thing is for sure about the fantasy universe where "Streets of Fire" takes place: relationships are as confusing and aggravating there as they are in the real world.

The group makes their way back to Ardmore. En route they have a few more adventures, including blasting the bejeezus out of a police blockade, and they pick up a couple more accomplices. The Sorels tag along because opening shows for Ellen Aim could be their big break, while the female singer from "Better Off Dead" (another movie set in a fantasy world, a place where skiing and sex are inexorably linked) joins the party as Ellen's number one fan.

Stars love entourages. Having an entourage makes them feel like they really are somebody. Fortunately for stars, simply walking down the street is about all the effort required to generate an entourage of fawning toadies out of thin air.

Cody and Ellen eventually have one of those soul-shredding heart-to-heart talks that people have in the middle of the street during a torrential downpour. The number of relationships that are rescued by America's roadways and thunderstorms is a staggering total. Of course, the percentage of vehicle-pedestrian accidents that take place on days with limited visibility (like rain) has the Department of Public Safety ready to suffer a conniption.

Look, everybody wants you to fall back in love with the beautiful ex-girlfriend you lost when she became a rock star. Just do it on the sidewalk.

Remember the Bombers? They are the violent motorcycle gang that is so bold that they are willing to openly attack the police. Well, Raven is not happy about Ellen's rescue. When Raven is not happy, the Bombers are not happy. Ardmore is soon under siege, and the police are hopelessly outgunned. The only thing that is going to stop the violence is if Cody faces Raven. In case you haven't noticed, Tom is not the type of guy who runs away from a fight. He is also not the kind of guy who hangs around as part of his girlfriend's entourage. In effect, he has to tell Ellen, "I love you, but I can't make you a big star and I can't be just a roadie with benefits. This is what I can do for you: I can fight." So he fights. Cody and Raven duel it out with sledgehammers under the Ardmore railway overpass. A pair of grown men trying to smash each other with sledgehammers! Honestly, I had no clue how Cody and Raven were going to settle things; considering the film's industrial undercurrent, the sledgehammer duel is exquisite.

Perhaps, just perhaps, you might not connect with "Streets of Fire" like I did. A rock & roll fable might not be for you; maybe this rock & roll fable is not for you. It's a world filled with pounding music, dirty city streets, stark raving mad bikers, and the soul of a prince disguised as a bitter loner. It's definitely for me. I love this movie.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Backup singer != bodyguard.
  • Wearing golf pants and trying to act like a tough guy is a dumb thing to do.
  • Nothing brings back a feeling of nostalgia like seeing your ex-girlfriend tied to a steel bed frame.
  • Motorcycles are just Molotov cocktails with wheels.
  • Always ask to see a bus' maintenance record before you hijack it.
  • Shotguns can fire miniature grenades.
  • Love is a lot like being knocked unconscious and then abandoned on a train to nowhere.
  • Motorcycles come with built-in gun racks.
  • Hair gel kills more men every year than sledgehammers and suspenders combined.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 5 mins - Was this stage left over from "The Muppet Show?" I mean the episode with Elton John.
  • 23 mins - Brother, you have got to introduce me to your mechanic.
  • 31 mins - Is that a she, or a he? I'm trying to decide if I am intrigued or disaffected.
  • 35 mins - Did anyone else notice that the lead singer looks like he is performing self-gratification?
  • 52 mins - McCoy, you either need to kill the twerp or marry him. My vote is for killin'.
  • 65 mins - "You know that it's raining outside, don't you?" "Yeah, I noticed."
  • 69 mins - Is it that hot and humid, or did you not dry off before tumbling into bed together?
  • 77 mins - So far you have managed to hit everything within swinging distance except for each other.
  • 79 mins - It's OK. The Bomber and his motorcycle broke the fall.

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note streetsfire1.wav Reva: "When are you ever going to grow up?"
Tom: "Why should I? This is more fun!"
Reva: "Let me give you some news, Tom. The Bombers and this guy, Raven Shaddock, they stole Ellen Aim."
Tom: "How the hell did that happen?"
(Police car siren.)
Reva: "Oh sh*t."
Tom: "God damn cops!"
Green Music Note streetsfire2.wav McCoy: "Eh, you might have a rough time with this one, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you're not my type."
Tom: "Yeah, I guess I kinda figured. I ain't had much luck with women lately."
McCoy: "Yeah, well you'll live. Something tells me that getting girls isn't exactly your problem in life."
Tom: "Maybe some other time, huh?"
McCoy: "I doubt it, but anything's possible."
Green Music Note streetsfire3.wav Tom: "You want your meal ticket back - get in the car or otherwise the deal is off!"
Fish: "Look Cody, you sound pretty dumb, but nobody's that dumb. I'm the one paying you. That means you go get her, I wait here, and you bring her back to me."
Tom: "You smart guys. You always figure you can hire a bum like me to do your dirty work. Well not this time."
Fish: "Can you really get her back?"
Tom: "You got a better volunteer?"
Green Music Note streetsfire4.wav Tom: "I think you're forgetting something: I've got the gun."
Raven: "I can get guns, smart guy, lots of them. Now, why don't you tell me your name."
Tom: "Tom Cody, pleased to meet ya."
Raven: "I'll be coming for her, and I'll be coming for you, too."
Tom: "Sure you will, and I'll be waiting."
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipstreetsfire1.mpg - 6.0m
This is from the opening credits (that play after Ellen has been kidnapped). The Road Masters tried to roll into Reva's diner acting all tough. Tom shows them what the word "tough" really means.

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