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Film / Streets of Fire

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Another time, another place.

Everybody's going nowhere slowly
They're only fighting for the chance to be last
There's nothing wrong with going nowhere baby
But we should be going Nowhere Fast

From Walter Hill, Streets of Fire is a 1984 film, described as a "Rock & Roll Fable." Its setting is a kind of Alternate Universe, a mix of an over-the-top 50s and a dystopian near-future as seen from the 80s; a card in the opening title sequence tells us it's set in "another time, another place." The charm of this film lies in its darkly beautiful shots with lots of shadow and smoke and piercing colors, the comic-book style storytelling, and fantastic music. It is especially popular in Japan, despite having no initial success, commercially or critically. Notably, Bubblegum Crisis was influenced by this film — not to mention the Streets of Rage series.

The plot of the film involves Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), lead singer of the Attackers, who is kidnapped by a gang of bikers known as The Bombers at her most recent concert. One of the people in the audience, Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), sends a telegram to her brother Tom (Michael Pare), a war veteran - and Ellen's ex-boyfriend - asking him to return to "the Richmond", a district in the city. Tom Cody and the ex-soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan) are hired by Ellen's surly manager and boyfriend, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to rescue Ellen. The three of them search for Ellen to rescue her from the Bombers, only for Tom to find that he has feelings for Ellen that need to be reconciled.

Streets of Fire was intended to be the first in a projected trilogy of action films called "The Adventures of Tom Cody" with Hill tentatively titling the two sequels The Far City and Cody's Return. However, the film's eventual failure at the box office put an end to the project.

The song "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young," which plays in the ending scene and over the credits (and whose title also appeared as the tagline for the film) was later adapted into "Der Tanz der Vampire" ("The Dance of the Vampires") in the German-language stage musical Tanz Der Vampire. Another song, "I Can Dream About You," became the biggest hit of singer Dan Hartman's career.

An unofficial Fan Sequel was released in 2013 in film festivals and in 2019 on home release, produced by Albert Pyun. Entitled Road To Hell, it has Michael Pare and Deborah Van Valkenburgh reprising their roles from the original film, and is significantly Darker and Edgier.

No relation to the song from the Initial D soundtrack. Or Bruce Springsteen's one, part of Darkness on the Edge of Town - though it was intended as part of the film before the studio admitted they wouldn't get the rights before opening day.

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Abduction Is Love: How Raven describes his motives. He keeps Ellen prisoner waiting for her to acquiesce to it, as he apparently prefers an active partner (however meaningless their consent might be) to a helpless victim tied to a bed:
    Raven: "You know, you're making things real hard on yourself. You act nice, me and you fall in love for a week or two, and then I let you go. Nobody gets hurt."
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Ellen's reconciliation with Tom.
  • Action Prologue: It starts off with Ellen being kidnapped onstage followed by a diner brawl, and the action never stops from there.
  • Author Appeal: Part of the reason this was made was because the director wanted to make a movie with the things he thought were cool while he was growing up: "Custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor."
  • Badass Boast: Both sides of the following exchange:
    Raven: You're real dumb if you think you can pull this off.
    Tom Cody: I think you're forgetting something. I got the gun.
    Raven: I can get guns, smart guy, lots of 'em. Now... why don't you tell me your name?
    Tom Cody: Tom Cody. Pleased to meet ya.
    Raven: I'll be comin' for her. I'll be comin' for you too.
    Tom Cody: Sure you will. And I'll be waitin.'
  • Bad Guy Bar: "Torchie's", an abandoned factory with an upstairs/back rooms apparently for Bad Guys' use.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: McCoy and Ellen aren't hurt at all, while the men get the snot beat out of them.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: The Roadmasters, a gang of wannabe thugs who're dispatched during the opening credits.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cody pulls himself together and saves the city, but leaves Ellen, feeling the best thing to do for her is to let her go.
  • Blade Lock: In the fight scene at the end, Cody and Raven do this with sledgehammers.
  • The Cavalry: At the end the citizens of The Richmond see off the Bombers after Cody defeats Raven.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The butterfly knife that Tom takes from the gang leader during the Diner Brawl gets put to good use later in the movie.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Clyde, who initially just seems to be someone for the Bombers to slap aside during the kidnapping, also facilitates (albeit unintentionally) the meeting between Cody and McCoy, and later goes to get The Cavalry for the climax.
  • Cherry Tapping: After beating each other up with sledgehammers and fists, Cody finishes Raven by pushing him over. It's a bit of an act of mercy, since Raven was basically out on his feet.
  • City of Adventure: The city is filled with bad-guy bars, greasy spoons and rock clubs filled with oddball and dangerous characters.
  • City with No Name: Although "the Richmond" and other districts were named, the overall city was simply "another time, another place."
  • The Coats Are Off: Cody does this in the opening Diner Brawl, revealing a sleeveless shirt beneath that duster. Both he and Raven do this before the sledgehammer street fight as well.
  • Combat Breakdown: Tom and Raven's duel begins with them using sledgehammers, and actually showing some skill and finesse with them. By the end, they're so exhausted and battered that they're staggering around, throwing wild punches, and Tom finally defeats Raven by pushing him over.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Both Tom and Raven. Officer Price also tries this by telling Raven to show up for a showdown with Cody but instead asking Cody to stay away and having armed men waiting to arrest Raven while he was outnumbered. Unfortunately, he did have plenty of goons waiting around the corner.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Billy Fish and Tom Cody are both jealous of the other's relationship with Ellen, but by the end they both get over it.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Cody and the Roadmasters
  • Deconstructed Trope: The Damsel in Distress plot. Cody's doing it for money, and Ellen is rescued about halfway through, the problem then becomes keeping her safe. It also touches on this when Ellen talks with the fangirl, admitting that she doesn't write her own songs.
  • Diner Brawl: We're introduced to Cody through one of these, where he defends his sister from some rowdy diner patrons, the Roadmasters.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The townspeople with several hundred guns after the end of the sledgehammer duel.
  • Drop the Hammer: The sledgehammer duel between Tom Cody and Raven.
  • Dystopia: The atmosphere is there, but outside of the implications of a war, little is know about the place.
  • The '80s: But most of the film takes on a The '50s aesthetic.
  • Everybody Lives: No one gets killed in the film, despite the violence.
  • Excuse Plot: A rare non-videogame example. Why does Raven kidnap Ellen? Eh, she's hot and he wants her. There's no subplot, no real motivation except he's The Villain.
  • Fake Band: Ellen Aim and the Attackers, and the Sorels. The band playing at Torchy's? Those were the Blasters, a real badass rockabilly group.
  • Fan Sequel: As mentioned above, Road To Hell was produced 28 years after this movie..
  • Fire-Forged Friends: At the end, Tom Cody and Billy Fish, who spent most of the movie being antagonistic toward each other, have come to an accord and respect each other to the point that they are no longer constantly sniping at each other.
  • Foreshadowing: "I Can Dream About You" foreshadows that Tom won't go with Ellen.
  • Gender Flip: The original screenplay imagined McCoy as a male; Amy Madigan convinced them to have the character be female without rewriting the part.
  • Genre-Busting: Hill likes to say that all his movies could be considered Westerns, and it shows; the rough and roguish gunslinger with complicated ethics, the damsel in distress, the showdown with the head bandit. But there's also 50's greaser punks and car chases, 80's-style crime drama and music, and a post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk vibe in that the authorities are only present to show how useless they are. And somehow, it all just works.
  • Genre Savvy: A pair of Dirty Cop's at a checkpoint Billy tries to bribe their way past take his money, but then note that for how much he's willing to pay, there's clearly something or someone big and important in there and try to arrest them.
  • Hollywood Night: Some of the film was shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California on two large, elaborate sets covered in a tarp 1,240 feet long by 220 feet wide so that night scenes could be filmed during the day.
  • Jim Steinman: Wrote the music for Ellen Aim and the Attackers. As if you couldn't tell.
  • Keep the Reward: Cody takes the 10 percent that he promised McCoy and lets Billy Fish keep the rest.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Raven does this to Cody during their fight. Cody also kicks back.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Albeit with sledgehammers, a weapon more suited to the working-class Tom and Raven than traditional dueling swords. Raven wanted to test himself against "someone who likes to play as rough as I do", but as the fight starts to go against him he obviously starts to regret it.
  • Living Prop: Ellen's other bandmates (presumably "The Attackers"), only one of whom tries to save her from the bikers. None of them join in the rescue mission and they barely interact with anyone.
    • All of the cops besides Price, Cooley and the two at the checkpoint.
  • Made of Explodium: Cody dispatches Raven's gang's motorcycles with a single shot each. Whoomph-flash-boom.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Mood Whiplash: After scenes of typical action movie fare with Bloodless Carnage comes the raw, brutal sledgehammer fight, with blood.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: It's a Musical/Action/Comic Book movie.
  • One-Liner: Much of the dialogue is this.
  • Percussive Prevention: Tom punches Ellen across the face to knock her out so she would stop fussing and he could focus on saving them.
  • Pet the Dog: Billy and Cody finally exchange friendly words at the film's end, finally making amends.
    • While the main group is initially hostile to the Sorels, they all seem to warm up to the group when the latter sing for them in the bus. (Even Billy and McCoy seem happy to hear it.) At the end of the film, Billy has become the group's manager.
  • Playing Hard to Get: When Reva notes how McCoy spent the night on the couch instead of in Cody's bed, McCoy says. "Sometimes it helps a guy out if you don't make it so easy."
  • Police Are Useless: Well it is Gangster Land, after all. There are only two main cops that we see, and one of them is the Chief of Police. Two other patrolmen are bought off.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Cody, McCoy, and Billy fit this trope well enough, but it really heads into this territory when they pick up Baby Doll, a fan of Ellen's, and the Sorels, a band, on the way back from the Battery.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The "Godspeed!" section of Nowhere Fast was lifted from the title track of Jim Steinman's solo album, Bad For Good, and the opening piano riff was recycled for the Meat Loaf song Everything Louder Than Everything Else. And as mentioned above, Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young was re-arranged to become the title track of Tanz Der Vampire.
  • Red Herring: The scenes with the Torchies Dancer make it appear that this character is going to be important to the plot or help the heroes save Ellen. That is not the case. Her purpose was to show how engrossed the patrons at the place are to her dance to be too distracted to notice Tom... and set up the ensuing chaos that takes place after Tom rescues Ellen.
  • Retro Universe: The setting is best described as being in Rock n' Roll land with minimal racial tensions, '50s-ish fashion sense, and '80s-ish urban decay. The intro card simply reads, "Another Time, Another Place."
  • Romantic Rain: After Tom Cody tells off Ellen, she chases him back outside in the pouring rain, and a few moments later kissing ensues.
  • Rule of Cool: Did we mention the duel between Tom Cody and Raven? With sledgehammers!
  • Running Gag: Cody and company repeatedly ditching and procuring the same car.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: Some DVDs of the film rate it PG while others rate it R.
  • Shout-Out: The film has been referenced in other works.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Ellen Aim and the Attackers.

  • Spontaneous Crowd Formation: Raven summons about 200 bikers out of nowhere to face down the police. A bit later, a bunch of citizens with guns show up to stare them down. They then proceed to do nothing until Tom beats Raven in a street fight, at which point the guys with guns chase off the bikers.
  • Starter Villain: The Roadmasters.
  • Stealth Parody: Though advertised as a dark, edgy atmospheric action thriller the film is very tongue in cheek with a lot of cheesy lines delivered badly on purpose.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • A small, humorous moment: during the chaos of Ellen's rescue, Tom smacks one of the Bombers in the face with a rifle butt and sends him tumbling down a staircase into a crowd of more Bombers. One of them shouts "Who is that guy?" The villains' lives don't revolve around the hero or even their boss's latest caper. As far as they're concerned, Tom is just some guy who's busting up their party for no reason that they can determine.
    • When the police are asked to set up a One-on-one fight between Tom and Raven, instead they simply try to trap Raven and arrest him when he's off-guard, something Raven had apparently anticipated.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Cody, McCoy, and Billy spend as much time arguing as they do rescuing Ellen.
  • Titled After the Song: The film was named after Bruce Springsteen's song "Streets of Fire." Ellen was supposed to sing it at the end of the film, but the filmmakers couldn't get the rights to it in time, so she sings an original song that doesn't reference the title at all.
  • Vice City: The unnamed city, full stop. Violent crime is rampant, with even celebrities like Ellen Aim getting victimized, and all the police are either corrupt or useless.
  • Victory by Endurance: Tom actually takes more hits than Raven in the final fight. He wins because he can take more hits than Raven. Also, Raven is visibly exhausted by the end of the fight, while Tom still has some gas left in the tank.
  • World of Badass: Soldiers, greasers, rockabilly bars, biker gangs, cops, vigilantes, even the Non-Action Guys... everything is badass except the Roadmasters.
  • Wretched Hive: The unnamed city is overrun with biker gangs, to the point that they can commit brazen kidnappings of celebrities and the cops are powerless to stop it.
  • The X of Y: Streets of Fire.
  • Zeerust: The film takes place in modern day (The '80s), but the entire aesthetic is of The '50s.