Rad is a very specific movie which plays to a very specific type of audience. If you're the type of guy who debates how Automan and The Powers of Matthew Star rank up alongside the likes of Airwolf, you'll probably be a fan of Rad. If you custom built a BMX bike while a mix tape of Stan Bush power anthems and Tangerine Dream's Street Hawk theme played on your Walkman, you'll probably be a fan of Rad. If you ever...
what are you doing here?!
Nobody was supposed to find you sealed away with your mint and carded action figure collection for at least another 17 months!
No! Stay away! Noooooooooooo-*Zap*
Hello, Exchangers, Tony here. You might remember me as the guy who kept forcing all of those lousy Ninja movies on Noel and Angie. As the blog's recent lack of Ninjosity suggests, I'm no longer a contributor to the Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange (having been replaced, and improved upon, by Jak), but since Rad was one of my original picks, I thought it only fair that I should come back and bat lead off for this month's review. Oh, and don't worry about Noel. I merely shot him with a homemade sleep ray, which ionizes Celestial Seasonings tea and combines it with force-focused photons which are then fired from an old Nintendo Zapper gun. He currently believes he's watching an episode of Power Rangers. He'll wake up in a few hours with a slight headache and a desire to kick a giant rubber monster in the balls. So basically how he usually feels when he wakes up.
Okay, dudes, let's walk this sucker
Rad tells the story of Cru Jones (Bill Allen, but not the Microsoft Bill Allen), a high school senior, paper boy, and BMX fanatic who finds his purpose when a large race track is built in his small California town. Dubbed “Helltrack”, it will be the site of the largest and most lucrative BMX race in the country. Unfortunately for Cru, several things are working against him and his dreams of BMX glory.
For one, there's his mom (Talia Shire of Rocky fame), who wants Cru to focus on his upcoming SAT's - which, it just so happens, are taking place on the exact same day as the qualifying races for Helltrack. And then there's Duke Best (Jack Weston), the owner of Mongoose bicycles and president of the Federation of American Bicyclists, who sees a threat in the young upstart. Finally, there's Bart Taylor (played by Olympic Gold Medalist Bart Conner in his first acting role), poster boy for team Mongoose and the top-rated BMX rider in the nation, not to mention a first-class prick. But Cru is unbowed. Wearing his street clothes and a battered hockey helmet, he makes his way through the brutal qualifying rounds to earn a spot in the actual race. This doesn't sit well with Best, who stands to lose a lot of money if his golden boy doesn't win Helltrack. After failing to recruit Cru to team Mongoose, Best begins to throw up a series of bureaucratic obstacles to insure that Cru is unable to compete in the race.
But not everything is going badly for our hero. All of the top BMX riders in the nation have descended on Cochrane, and one of them happens to be the beautiful female rider Christian (Lori Loughlin). After seducing one another with what is surely the only BMX freestyle dance scene in film history, the two bond over some ass-sliding (not what you think, sinners) and before you can say "convenient plot tumbler falls into place", they're in love. With encouragement from Christian, and a lot of help from his friends, the townsfolk, and plucky little sister Wes (Laura Jacoby), Cru manages to beat Best at his own game and claim his spot in Helltrack. Under the banner of “Rad Racing”, Cru squares off against the 19 best riders from North America. Best instructs two of his racers (twins Chad and Carey Hayes) to take Cru out, thus clearing the way for Bart to win. But Bart has other ideas. When the twins cause Cru to crash, Bart stops and waits for him to catch up. From there, it's a sprint to finish, with Cru edging Bart at the line with a nifty - and totally unnecessary - 360 spin. After being dismissed from Mongoose by a livid Best, Bart goes over to congratulate Cru on his victory. Wes suggests that there's room on the Rad team, which is met with an enthusiastic response by all as they hoist Bart's bike into the air as credits roll.
I've never seen such raw talent and determination in one kid before!
Rad is a fascinating story. I'm not talking about the plot, I mean the film itself. To the uninitiated, this may look like just another forgotten 80s movie that tried marrying the latest thing (BMX) with the underdog kid formula that was so popular and successful at the time. And while the latter is true, Rad is not forgotten. Not by a long shot.
Directed by Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, MegaForce), Rad was a huge dud at the box office in 1986, pulling in just over $2 million dollars. But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. First, it became a massive hit on the burgeoning home video market, where it stayed on the top-ten video rental list for two years. Pretty impressive, right? Unfortunately over the next couple of decades, the rights to the film became muddled. With the original studio, Embassy, out of business, no one seemed to know who owned Rad. Limited to just that one initial VHS release, you'd think Rad would've simply faded away. Instead, it flourished, and Rad is more popular today than ever. Not only does it have the requisite fan sites where the like-minded gather to quote the film and discuss the awesomeness of John Farnham (singer of "Thunder In Your Heart" and "Break the Ice"), its 25th anniversary inspired a weekend long celebration that drew cast and crew as well as over two thousand fans to the original filming locations (Cochrane and Calgary, Canada, which stood in for the fictitious Cochrane, California). Star Bill Allen remains extremely active within the Rad fan community and is currently spearheading an effort to get the film an official DVD release. There's even a documentary in the works entitled A Rad Documentary.
But why has Rad inspired such a rabid following? Not unlike "Why is Justin Bieber famous?", that's a hard question to answer. For most of us, what it boils down to is that Rad is one of the few movies to focus on the sport of BMX racing and freestyle. While enjoying a resurgence today, BMX peaked in the mid-80s after, of all things, the movie E.T. prominently featured BMX bikes in its classic chase scene finale. It just so happened that my next door neighbor at the time was one of the best BMX racers in the state of Ohio, and that only served to fan the flames for me. Pretty soon, I traded in my cheap, off-the-rack "Led Sled" and got a high end bike of my own. It was a 1985 Mongoose Californian, which cost $214 and had to be special ordered (and just so happens to be the same model that Cru rides in the movie). Having temporarily outgrown Star Wars, and with my penis still a good six years away from fully coming on-line, BMX and freestyle were my obsessions for the rest of the decade.
Look, I'm not so blinded by nostalgia and my love for BMX that I can't see that the acting in this movie is about on par with the Stumblebum, Idaho repertory theater company. And I know it's corny and hopelessly dated. I also know that I don't care about any of that. Rad is the definitive pop culture work dedicated to the sport of BMX and freestyle, and that is, well, pretty rad.
Whoa, it looks like Noel is coming to, and it just so happens that I'm wearing a rubber monster costume... Don't ask. I'm gonna scram before one of Noel's size elevens finds its way to my balls, but I'm genuinely curious to find out what the rest of you thought.
I heard we were doing Rad this month and saw the poster for it. "Oh gross, a BMX bike movie," I thought. I have zero interest in bikes and less than zero interest in BMX, so I found every reason to put off watching this. Visions of plotless BMX culture sequences filled my head. Eventually the day came where the deadline was near and I had to make myself put the fanmade DVD in. The menu popped up and an electronic drum fill introduced an opening synth riff that was so mid-80's, I wouldn't be surprised if its soundform output was a portrait of Reagan playing an Atari and drinking New Coke. Then the lyrics come in and it's screaming to be the score of a training montage: fire, glory, risking it all, the thrill of the moment, moves like lightning and hearts of thunder. All right, I'm in the right mindset for this now: this is going to be the Rocky of bike movies. It even has Talia Shire in it.
It opens with a series of genuinely impressive bike tricks, impressive enough that I didn't realize it went on for four whole minutes. Like many movies before it, I hoped this wasn't an indicator of the pacing to come. It was, though this turned out to be one of the things I liked about it.
I was surprised because I usually don't like when a movie meanders. In this case, I found the tangential scenes much more charming and entertaining (obligatory cheesy romance scene notwithstanding). Once we got back to scenes where the focus was on the main plot's development, the writing seemed to turn hamfisted and forced, the characters stopped being nearly so likeable, and even the acting became less believable, as though the actors didn't know what to do with their lines. It reminded me of my experience watching Krull in that way, like there were two very different writing and directorial teams at work on different parts of the same movie.
For the big racing sequences, my brain sort of shut off because it was a formulaic story (underdog beats the odds!) from a formulaic genre (competition!) from a formulaic period (1986!), so I knew how it was going to end from the moment the plot was set into motion. At least the bike tricks never stopped being impressive, which is more than I can say for the incessant electro pop soundtrack (or that dance sequence. Yow.)
In the end, I found myself wishing it had been exactly the kind of movie I was initially dreading it might be. I have to admit that's an experience I've never had before.
Does the fact that I've never seen any of those titles Noel mentioned serve as a warning sign here? It may. I had also never heard of this film before now, though being not quite yet five at the time of its release may be to blame. But then, The Karate Kid came out two years before that, and I know that movie very well, so maybe not.
I see a lot of similarities in structure between this film and that one, with the main difference, beside the karate/BMX racing swap, being that Mr. Miyagi's role is fulfilled by the love interest. I'm sure there's no coincidence there, as Hollywood probably made tons of these films to try to cash in on that movie's success. I loved The Karate Kid as a child, and when I watched it earlier this year, I was pleased to see just how much that film held up. So while I have zero interest in BMX bikes or racing, I thought it was possible I may still be able to get some enjoyment out of this film.
I'm sorry, Tony, but that didn't happen.
When I heard the first couple songs on the soundtrack, I appreciated the 80s cheesiness of them, but after a while, they all started to sound the same, and I was a bit surprised to find out there were multiple artists involved, as I couldn't really tell them apart. Though I think the biggest hurdle for me is the dialogue. I spent a lot of time thinking, "No one would talk like that. Ever." The scene early on with the adults having a meeting about adding Helltrack to their town is so obviously dumbed down to make sure children can understand it that the adults involved seem really stupid. Not to mention the leap in logic that a town thoroughly annoyed by the antics of its three newspaper delivery boys (and girl) would welcome such a competition to their town just for the sake of profit. Of course, that does make it convenient when the old man who thinks life would be better if there were no children suddenly changes his mind and decides to help the local boy after all.
Speaking of, I adore Ray Watson, and I did at least enjoy watching him in this film. It was also interesting to see Lori Loughlin in something other than Full House. I adored Talia Shire in the Rocky films, so seeing her essentially playing Adrian as a mom is fun, though I don't entirely like the way she's pushed to the side so much. I also rekindled a part of my memory I hadn't visited in ages when I realized Jack Weston looks familiar because I saw him in Short Circuit 2.
I had a lot of time to think about these other films and television shows because the movie spends a lot of time showing us people on bikes. Cru escaping the cop who's apparently not really trying to arrest him but just playing a game of cat and mouse. The ultra-ridiculous dancing the other bikers put on before Cru and Christian take over on the bikes. Cru training with Christian. And then, of course, the race itself. I'm sure these moments are excellent for people interested, and I can see how it would be enough to latch a kid into wanting to ride as it did for Tony, but as an adult, it just doesn't interest me one bit.
There's one other thing that bugs me, and after that, I swear I'll stop nitpicking and play nice. When we're first introduced to Bart, he's a jerk. He stops a parade just so he can hit on two girls right in front of Christian, who it's at least suggested is his girlfriend before he dumps her soon afterward. He's also not too nice during the dance scene. But once it comes down to the approaching race, he's a pretty good sport, confident he can win this one, and not in agreement with Duke's antics to try to ruin Cru's chances. Him slowing down in the race really shows it, because he wants to race Cru fair and square. It therefore makes perfect sense when the good guys offer him a spot on their team at the end of the movie, but it's a really bad writing choice to make his character so inconsistent without showing us any motivation for his face turn.
In the hands of a better writer, I feel like this movie could have stood up and been a lesser known film for fans of Rocky and The Karate Kid to discover and enjoy. As it is, I'm afraid it just lives as a poor imitation. To try to include some kind of positive here, I will say I agree that the story about what happened to the film is an interesting one, and I would gladly watch The Rad Documentary if it's ever released.
Dammit, Tony! I don't know what's worse: that I smell like Celestial Seasonings, or that I'm making "fwip" noises as I strike dynamic poses with the full expectation that they'll be backed by flashy graphics and a shredding guitar. If you'd give me half a second, you'd find out I'm actually riding at your side on the final lap of the Helltrack.
Rad is not a great movie. The plot is formulaic. The dialogue is formulaic. The cast is formulaic. The villain is formulaic. The small town drama is formulaic. The romance is formulaic. The lead is formulaic. Also a bit of an asshole, but a formulaic one. The struggles with his mom over education vs. "This is the one thing in life I know I can do!" is formulaic. The power ballads and 80s synth track are formulaic.
This movie is formulaic. But you know what? Formulaic does not equate bad. I do enjoy a film that goes outside the box, tries new things, and completely blows my mind as it opens my perceptions up to new possibilities. I also enjoy the palate cleansing comfort food of a film where I pretty much know every twist going in, and just ask that they be given to me in an interesting way. And Rad gives me that. Hal Needham is a former stunt man/coordinator, and the majority of his films are catered to showing off physical prowess in the form of circus-like spectacle, and he absolutely delivers here as the art of BMX stunt riding is shown in every conceivable way, through both the pounding speed of the races and the lingering slow motion of every flip, spin, and tire pogo during moments like Cru's morning paper route, daily game of chase with the bulldog motorcycle cop, practicing in a home-made obstacle course with his friends, and, in the greatest segment of hyper-reality ever committed to celluloid, Cru and Christian mutually alluring one other with a phantasmagoria of pops and locks and obviously fixed on a rig closeups at the local dance, all set to the emo romance pop ballad "Send Me an Angel".
Even outside the stunts, there's a color and energy to the goings on as this small town is invaded by emblazoned athletes and corporations infatuated with their own product. Though, as mentioned, Cru is a bit of an asshole at first, trolling people on his daily route and being the type of smartass who can get away with it because of that smile. Bill Allen gives him an everyman appeal. He's not perfect, but he believes in what he can do and so we join his friends in cheering him on as he sets out to do it. And it helps that Allen is skilled enough with a bike to sell the shots where it's obviously him, unlike Lori Loughlin who's often replaced by a man in a wig. Which isn't to say Christian is a bad character, she's not, but she ultimately doesn't do much beyond show up and fall in love, as the town itself is far more instrumental in helping Cru fight through increasingly petty rule changes, and she doesn't even take part in the final race. Talia Shire is also quite good as the mom, even though her conflict with Cru is minimal, and Ray Walston is always a treat, especially when he's flipping the bird.
As for the rest of the cast, Tony's not off in that they're made up of largely untrained talents, or whatever character actors they could find. Bart isn't bad as Bart, and has a realistic cockiness and athleticism, but he's pretty flat in the charisma department and never actually feels like a threat to Cru. The twins are pretty hard to take seriously when they walk around in the spacemen uniforms from Forbidden Planet, and never pull off the threat when they're sent to take Cru down. And even Duke Best is a pretty limp villain, as Jack Weston sloshes through the role in a way that would never cut it as a CEO in the real world. Other roles, like Cru's friends and various types around town, feel like local amateurs, but have an authentic charm, and there's even an adorable moment where we pause the movie for two minutes just so an announcer can run down a list of the actual BMX racers who showed up.
It's not a top-quality production, there's pretty much zero depth or complexity to the whole thing, every scene ticks off the list of expected scenes, and there's no real threat to overcome beyond some assholes being assholes to the asshole. But it still stirs the thunder in my heart, and I'm with this movie for every kick of the pedal, the winning of every achievement we knew would be won, and every gratuitous 80s use of a child saying "shit".
Tony, thanks for first introducing me to this film a few years back, and returning to share it with me now.
But if you EVER pull another stunt like the one you did to open this piece, I'll amass every force in my power to-*Zap*
Angie, Jak, I was never optimistic you were going to fall head over wheels for Rad. For one thing, we're working with a slim generation gap here. It may only be a few years, but in pop culture terms, that's a lifetime. There's just nothing here for either of you to gain any nostalgic purchase. The music, the fashion - hell, the entire BMX culture - are nothing more than antiquated oddities to the both of you. My best hope was that the underdog formula and uber sincerity of it all might win you over. Alas, it didn't. Perhaps those are antiquated notions as well.
Noel, I obviously had a pretty good idea of what your reaction was going to be. Like Angie and Jak, this isn't exactly your section of pop cultural turf, and I know you have about as much interest in bikes and the sport of BMX as you do in rubbing your balls on a rusty cheese grater, but you had a certain appreciation for Rad the first time around, so I was confident it would hold up on a repeat viewing. I'm glad I was right.
We can't force others to love something. It doesn't matter how hard we try, or how strong of a case we make, love isn't compelled. It just doesn't work that way. Not even when the other guy is total a dick who will only break her heart, while you're clearly better looking and have more to offer. Oh, and this whole “friends” business? Well, you can take that and stuff it in a sack, sister! I've got your “friends” right--
But, I digress. My point is, there is no right or wrong here. I don't take offense to Angie's reactions to Revenge of the Ninja or Rad for the same reason she wasn't upset that I didn't fully embrace anime after watching Memories.
Angie, Jak, I sincerely appreciate the both of you indulging Noel and I in our little switch-a-roo, and for allowing me to come back and share not only the movie Rad, but also a little bit about the sport of BMX and freestyle with you and your readers.
We'll be back on the 1st of September with a pick from Jak: Leonard Part 6 (1987)