(Walter Hill, 1984)
The main problem with Streets of Fire is its leading man. Michael Paré may have briefly been the next big thing, may have been extremely handsome, and may have looked the part of the action hero matinee idol. But he couldn't act.
Not in the way many other action stars can't act; those sort of stars generally know their limitations and play themselves and variations thereof repeatedly. No; Paré just seems an empty vessel, posing his way through his scenes. He is almost expressionless, utterly devoid of charisma, and wooden in each of his line readings.
He plays Tom Cody, an ex-Army drifter summoned back to his big City hometown to rescue his old flame, the rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) after she is kidnapped, mid-song, by a Biker gang, the Bombers, led by Raven (Willem Defoe). Cody teams up with Aim's new boyfriend and manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) and the tomboyish fellow veteran McCoy (Amy Madigan) to bust into the Bombers hideout, then get Ellen back across the City.
The final part of that plot is familiar from Hill's other work - a group of disparate personalities fleeing together across a hostile landscape describes the plot of both The Warriors and Southern Comfort, but this is a very different piece of work to either of those spare, stylish action classics.
The opening subtitle describes it as a "Rock & Roll fable", and it seems to take simplicity as the defining quality of that particular form; stripping everything down to its most basic core. That means that the characters are mostly cliched types fulfilling generic roles. The setting is more interesting; Hill aims for a timeless comic book world, a mixture of 1950s and 1980s styles, neon-lit and rain-slicked. There are a mix of influences and references: the villains are a leather-clad Biker gang like something from a 60s movie, the hero brandishes a rifle one handed, Western fashion, and the music is utterly 80s, with songs written by Jim Steinman among others.
The plots simplicity works well; offering a satisfying, predictable three-act structure allowing for action, humour, romance and a big final showdown. But the dialogue is more problematic. Everybody talks in a hard-bitten tough guy manner, making bad jokes as they ceaselessly mock and chide one another; and it's a little tiring and extremely one-note.
Some of the cast handle it better than others; Madigan sounds natural whereas Moranis sounds forced. Paré, for his part, sounds like a small boy trying to sound tough.
Hill retains his skill with action - all of it exaggerated here with thunderous sound effects and visceral cutting - and his eye for the pop beauty in an urban setting, but this feels like a film thatbgot away from him to some extent. Its a little too big and wild, a little too odd and strange to ever really work. And having a leading man who cannot lead doesn't help at all..