Underappreciated movies: Rad

Do we actually like classic 80s movies because we like them, or because we remember liking them when we were younger? Hmmm. Duncan uses fresh eyes on Rad...


80s movies for me, as with most things associated with that decade, are not just something to be looked back on with an ironic distance, or as films that belonged in that time with nothing but nostalgic value. For me they represent something approaching an all encompassing state of mind and feeling of well being.

Of course they hold a nostalgic resonance, I grew up watching them, being influenced by them and dreaming of being able to be a part of the lifestyle they portrayed, but how then does an 80s classic stand up when I’ve only just seen it for the first time?

With Rad, the answer is simply: fantastic.

When sitting down to watch the movie, as with most of its kind, the point isn’t to look for an original premise, but to enjoy every second of the journey and, despite feeling you know the resolution before it’s even started, still have the ability to wonder if there will, in fact, be a triumphant ending for the hero. But as soon as the opening song kicked in, with its familiar synth-rock backing and vocals by John Farnham, matched by graceful slow motion shots of BMX stunts, I knew I was going to love every second of it.

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The story as it stands revolves around local BMX nice guy, the fantastically named Cru Jones, and his dreams of entering a race which is being brought into their small town by big, bad corporate racing factories. The race itself, entitled ‘Hell Track’ is seen as an easy win for the number one racer in the country, Bart Taylor – the usual Aryan looking, arrogant protagonist of many an 80s movie. But Cru rides with a natural passion, so who will win?

The film I kept being reminded of while watching Rad was Karate Kid. Not just because of the character and thematic similarities but because, like Karate Kid, it portrays a skill that every boy dreams of having. BMXing in this movie is the absolute epitome of cool. As a kid I used to spend hours and hours just riding around, eventually learning a few basic tricks; and seeing this movie made me yearn for my Raleigh Burner all over again. Luckily, I haven’t got it any more, or I’d be writing this review from hospital. Cru’s opening sees him not only tricking and racing his way through town while doing his paperboy round, but soon afterwards challenging the local police biker to try and catch him while riding up and over piles of lumber while the 80s soft rock blares away.

His BMX skills not only look cool, but also attract the attention of the lovely Christian. A racer brought into town as part of the Hell Track promotion, she’s the kind of girl that I would’ve fallen in love with back then, as opposed to now, of course, where I… er… never mind. The reason I mention this is because it leads to the most fantastic scene (depending on your disposition) in the whole movie and the most romantic scene I’ve ever seen on two wheels – a BMX dance scene, or as it’s described in the movie a ‘bicycle boogie’.

Oh yes.

Now an 80s movie is only as good as its soundtrack and the song playing during this scene is Open Fire’s Send Me An Angel, possibly one of the finest tracks you could ever hope to hear (I should probably point out at this juncture that I listen to Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice score for fun). Combine that with stunts that involve Cru and Christian holding hands in slow motion, while simultaneously riding their bikes at a 180 degree angle, as the disco ball shines above them, and you have yourself a stand out moment of pure 80s goodness.

Along Cru’s journey the anti-corporate/80s greed message is made perfectly clear. After refusing the promise of wealth and fame if he throws the race, he is beset by one obstacle after another, involving either attempts to stop our nice-but-poor hero from entering because he doesn’t have enough money or by the usual dirty trick of trying to have him ‘taken out’ during a race. In Cru’s moment of crisis, where he loses all faith in himself to compete, he wishes he’d taken the money, seeing it as the only way to succeed in the current financial climate of corporate America. The scene represents a commonly held belief in the 80s, but is portrayed in this movie as the corruption of innocence, forcing a boy who doesn’t care about money, who rides only for the love of it, to re-assess his own values in the name of money.

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I should point out, that one of these obstacles is overcome thanks to his foul mouthed, 10 year old tomboy sister, who deserves a mention due to her penchant for kicking guys in the shin and for her repeated use of the word ‘bullshit’. Dakota Fanning could learn a lot.

And so the climax comes down to the expected questions: will love and friendship help him rise above it? If he can enter the race, will he win? Can the underdog beat the system? You and I both know the answers, but I for one found everything I was looking for in a movie about one boy and his BMX. With maybe just that little bit more.

It’s off to the bike shop for me.