This has been one of my favorite films since it was released. Walter Hill used to take the most basic framework, drape great characters and unique style over it, to make something where the whole seemed bigger than the parts. Billing itself as "A Rock & Roll Fable", this is no exception.
Mixing the styles of 50's DooWop with the neo-noire 80's New Wave elements created an unique, albeit sometimes confusing, look and feel for this film. When and where does it take place? Everywhere and Nowhere. It mixes looks, styles and sounds into a fictional city that never ends. It's a fable, after all.
When he made this, Hill said he wanted to make a comic book movie without the comic book. This is a really honest description of the film, and the only other film aside from Buckaroo Banzai that has succeeded at that, IMHO. Like a comic, the characters aren't deep, but they are well defined. The sets may not be perfect or complete, but they do set a solid look and feel.
A lot of the casting here is fantastic. Rick Moranis, very much known at the time for playing funny, nerdy types like Louis Tully, keeps that look but plays a straight up asshole in need of a throat punch. Bill Paxton is at his best playing the weiner bartender Clyde. Musician Lee Ving makes a great lieutenant to the extremely menacing Dafoe. Robert Townsend goes from uncredited Baseball Fury to doowop singer with the Sorels. This is also one of the films (along with Fandango and Valley Girl) that spotlighted Tommy Pickles as the hottest girl of the 80's.
For a movie like this to work, all actors have to be on board or it falls apart. We can see them as campy or satirical, but they themselves can't. As ridiculous as this movie gets at points, it never stops taking itself seriously and because of that it holds together. This is a fable, after all. The reality presented here is not ours, but at the same time while it stretches sometimes, it never breaks through that barrier into unbelievability.
I remember when this came out, it was hyped to be huge. The soundtrack was supposed to be the 'it' album. But none of that happened. Despite having The Blasters and Ry Cooder performing on it, the only single from the movie was the Sorel's "I Can Dream About You", and that was actually performed by a white guy. The mix of Ellen Aim's new wave ballads just didn't mesh well with the rockabilly Blasters/Ry Cooder offerings.
And I think a lot of the audience skipped past the 'fable' part at the beginning and were alternately confused and dismayed by what was going on here. To be honest, that makes perfect sense. If you don't buy into that, you're really going to be confused and over thinking this movie. Like a lot of Hill's films from this era, you can't over think them because they fall apart. You really have to go in open minded and accept everything at face value here.
For being a 30+ year old film that mixes the 50's and the 80's, Streets of Fire still holds up remarkably well.
If it's not horror, this is the place!
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