Streets of Dire

streets of fire posterStreets? More like a whole city of dire!

Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Jim Steinman, all as part of my attempt to put together a musical equivalent of the Pigman Cometh cartoons, and this led me to the Steinman song “Nowhere Fast,” which in turn led me to “Streets of Fire,” the 1984 movie for which this song was written. The good news is that the song is used in its entirety and right at the start, and that another Steinman song closes the movie. The bad news is that there’s a really crap movie in between the two Steinman opuses.

Set way back in the 1950s and starring Michael Pare, a startlingly young Willem Dafoe, and an apparently catatonic Diane Lane, the film’s plot, if one wants to call it that, is about as basic as it gets – bad guy kidnaps girl, good guy rescues girl, good guy kicks bad guy’s ass. Not much else, it’s the kind of thing that might make for a good music video, but as a movie plot it’s as insubstantial as it gets. This so-called story isn’t actually the movie’s real problem, though – what totally screws this thing over is the atrociousness of its dialogue and characters. Cliché after cliché, hackneyed stereotype after hackneyed stereotype. Five minutes into the movie you wish Dafoe’s biker gang would just kill everyone in sight and then turn their guns on themselves. And while they’re at it, they might as well do the audience a favor and spray them with bullets as well. Believe me, a bullet to the head is preferable to hearing an hour and a half of this kind of drivel…

“Oh, you’re dumb. And, you’re short. Real short.”

“I’ve always been a tequila man.”

“You wanna change this tire, shorty?”
“Changing tires isn’t exactly my line of work, dear.”
“If that’s the case, then why don’t you just shut up!”

“Let’s see the color of your money.”

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.”

“The only problem with kicking the shit out of you is that it would be too easy.”

“I’ll be comin’ for her. I’ll be comin’ for you too.”
“Sure you will. And I’ll be waitin.’ “

It’s enough to leave William Shakespeare green with envy, and everyone else green with nausea.

One is left with the suspicion that this stale pile of donuts may have been served up as a deliberate attempt to ape the kind of crap dialogue that often popped up in low-budget 1950s movies of the hard-boiled type. But here’s the problem ; unless you play deliberately clichéd crap for straight-out laughs – Peter Falk in “Murder By Death” and “The Cheap Detective” comes to mind – it’s still just clichéd crap! And the woeful performances don’t help any, either. Pare as the hero is acceptable, as is Dafoe as the villain, but everyone else gives what can most kindly be described as amateurish performances. Whether this can be put down to their youth, a lack of talent, or a director telling them to pretend they are in a low-budget 50’s drive-in flick, I don’t know – what I do know is that it makes a bad situation even worse.

Possibly the only interesting thing about this woebegone slice of hokum is wondering if the hero’s tomboy sidekick is a lesbian. An ex-soldier, she tells the handsome Pare that he isn’t her type, at one point she seems somewhat distracted by a female stripper, and it being the 1950s it wouldn’t be at all surprising if she was on the down low. That’s it, that’s the closest these characters get to being interesting. Other than an opportunity to check if one’s gaydar is in proper working order, there is also some pretty good music to help ease the pain. For my taste the only two better-than-good songs are the Steinman pieces, but apparently the soundtrack has quite a few fans and did spawn the massive hit “I Can Dream About You.” The action sequences are pretty well done, especially Pare’s attack on the club where an unexpectedly relaxed Diane Lane is being held captive by her would-be paramour, and the fight at the end in which Pare and Dafoe try to tear one another to pieces with what appear to be railway spike drivers! Oh, yes, I almost forgot. The movie isn’t all clichés, as at the end the boy doesn’t get the girl! Shit, the one cliché we actually want to see and the bastards leave it out! Now, if only they had done the same thing with the rest of the script they might have had something worthwhile – as it is, all we get is two slices of Steinman with a cowpat sandwiched in between.

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