Walter Hill’s rock ‘n’ roll fable Streets of Fire (1984) is thirty next year and unsurprisingly the film’s rain-swept streets, which bring to vivid, glimmering life the neon-strewn façades, look terrific in this new transfer. Streets of Fire’s hyperreal quality remains as intoxicating as ever, despite the inherent lack of narrative drive and simplistic plotting. Rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and her band The Attackers are in the middle of a triumphant homecoming concert in a pseudo-futuristic cityscape when an evil biker gang, led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), disrupt the celebrations and kidnap Aim.
Tom Cody (Michael Paré), a young, straight-talking mercenary and old flame of the singer, returns to town to stage a rescue attempt. Hooking up with a feisty ex-solder McCoy (Amy Madigan) and Aim’s protective manager Billy Fish (a pre-Ghostbusters Rick Moranis in semi-serious mode), the trio venture beyond the city limits to save the girl. Similar to Hill’s 1979 offering The Warriors (a film which also garnered a cult audience over time), there’s a soupçon of countless visual influences and styles on display. What separates the two films, however, is a focus on music which informs both mood and structure. Streets of Fire is perhaps as close to a rock opera as you can get without the characters suddenly bursting into song.
The big, dramatic eighties power ballads on-stage (courtesy of Meat Loaf composer Jim Steinmann), and Ry Cooder’s energetic score mesh nicely with the film’s retro-vintage look, which is played out within a vaguely contemporary setting. The hard-boiled dialogue also feels like it’s been pulled from another era. It’s these seemingly disparate elements which account for much of the film’s charm, of which it has in bucketloads. With a cast comprised of familiar faces (a young-looking, heavily-quiffed Bill Paxton even crops up as a pugnacious bar proprietor) the film’s playful atmosphere is also channelled through the performances.
Whilst leading man Paré may be a little wooden at times (he’s no Robert Mitchum, that’s for sure) he’s more than adequate at pulling off the physical demands of the character, and he certainly looks great. Scratch beneath the surface – admittedly, it isn’t difficult – and Streets of Fire is fairly devoid of anything resembling a cohesive plot or lacking even a shred of subtext. It exists purely as pop action cinema, sweeping you up with a fevered enthusiasm and an overpowering desire to entertain which proves incredibly difficult to resist.