Friday, March 18, 2011

DVD REVIEW: BMX Bandits (1983)

BMX Bandits (1983) DVD

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 91 Min.

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast: Nicole Kidman, David Argue, John Ley, Angelo D'Angelo, James Lugton

Synopsis: The future Academy Award® winner made her movie debut at 16 years old as the pouffy-haired star of this action/comedy about a cache of stolen walkie-talkies, three BMX-riding friends, and the ruthless bank robbers who will pursue them through every graveyard, shopping mall, construction site and water park in New South Wales, Australia. It’s a high-flying ride to adventure filled with wild stunts, cool BMX outfits, creepy innuendo, cheezy synth music, an obnoxious fat kid, and gobs of fast and furious fun. John Ley (Mad Max), David Argue (Razorback) and Bryan Marshall (The Long Good Friday) co-star – with thrilling cinematography from future Oscar® winner John Seale (The English Patient) – in this Down Under ‘80s cult classic from ‘Ozsploitation’ master Brian Trenchard-Smith, the legendary director of Turkey Shoot, Dead End Drive-In and Stunt Rock!

Film: The early to mid 1980's were a fantastical era filled with neon-dreams and new wave synth pop, a time when every kid on the street either owned or desired a BMX. Atari hadn't yet dulled the natural instinct of children everywhere to congregate in the great outdoors. It confounds me that while the BMX figured so prominently in my youth somehow this film eluded me 30+ years. Circa 1983 prior to THE GOONIES or MONSTER CLUB this would have undoubtedly been a Top 5 film for me.

This is a classic 80's kids vs. criminals action/adventure film from Brian Trenchard-Smith, the director of the Ozploitation classics STUNT ROCK (1980), TURKEY SHOOT (1982) and DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986) which are featured prominently in the documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! (2008) which if you haven't seen I would suggest you definitely check it out, it's a blast. Trenchard-Smith also directed NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 (1994) which was a good bit of bloody fun but on the other end of the spectrum he also helmed LEPRECHAUN 3 (1995) and LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE (1997) so obviously something went terribly wrong for him in the mid 90's which truly were a bland cinematic wasteland.

The film begins on a surprisingly dark note featuring a bank heist perpetrated by four men in pig masks. It's a bizarre and tightly edited intro that gets the film on it's feet right at the start. You gotta show some love for the crazy 80's cuz these shenanigans just wouldn't snag a kiddie friendly rating today. Our three adventurers are P.J. (Angelo D'Angelo), Goose (James Lugtion) and Judy, a super-cute and never curlier Nicole Kidman whose efforts to scrape up some scratch for BMX bikes puts them in the sights of the bank robbing duo of Moustache (John Ley) and Whitey (David Argue) who are out to recover some walkie-talkies the trio have happened upon. There you have it, and so the chase begins in a world where parents just don't seem to physically exist.

To be honest the acting on the part of our trio is not worth a lot of praise except for maybe James Lugton whose wryly delivered humor is rather awesome. Also worth mentioning is David Argue as Whitey who supplies many of the films physical gags to great effect. He stole the show for me, he's an intense and irrational character who early on passes himself off as an officer of the law and at some point it's quite clear to me that he actually believed he was. I also love that there's a "fat kid" character who's one part Francis Buxton from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and one part Chunk from The Goonies. What film is not made that much better by the addition of a fat kid?  The film plays as a series of fun action sequences featuring our trio evading the crooks as they give chase through a dark cemetery, a construction site, a wharehouse and what self-respecting 80's film didn't feature a chase though a mall prominently featuring an escalator? Highlights for me were an extended night chase through an eerie cemetery featuring the crooks in goblin masks and a wonderfully wacky chase down a waterslide. It's a mostly harmless film meant to entertain the kiddies but with Brian Trenchard-Smith at the controls you know the film will be littered with fun chase sequences and a few large explosions. BMX Bandits it's just retro-80's goodness and the foam fight finale is appropriately nutty in a REAL GENIUS (1985) mountain of popped kernel corn kinda way. I don't know if the youth of today are gonna go ga-ga for this but being a child of the 80's myself it was hard not to commandere my sons BMX and pop a wheelie.

DVD: BMX Bandits gets a pleasing 2.35:1 (16x9) anamorphic transfer and it looks pretty great for a 30 year film. There's minimal print damage, vibrant 80's colors and fairly sharp details. We get Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio with no subtitles. Not a ton of bonus features but what we do get are pretty entertaining. There's an Trenchard-Smith commentary that is both congratulating and a bit self deprecating at the same time with numerous anecdotes about the making of the film, the actors and the beautiful locations throughout the film. BMX Buddies is a compact featurette with interviews from writers Patrick Edgeworth and Russell Hagg, actor James Lugton, producer Tom Brodebridge and plenty of Brian Trenchard-Smith. Notably missing is Nicole Kidman who from what I gather is a bit embarrassed by the film. Like Kevin Bacon she needs to get over it and embrace her humble beginnings. The special features are rounded out with a teaser trailer and three Severin Film trailers. Like I said, not a ton of bonus features but between the commentary and the featurette there's a lot of great content.

- Audio Commentary With Director Brian Trenchard-Smith
- BMX Buddies: Featurette with Cast and Crew (38:02)
- Nicole Kidman on Young Talent Time (2:32) 
- Theatrical Trailer (0:32)

Verdict: Having just watched the film for the 1st time it's difficult to rank this alongside my favorite 1980's kids flicks without the benefit of the inherent nostalgia factor but my initial thoughts are that it's right there alongside THE GOONIES (1985), MONSTER SQUAD (1987) and CLOAK AND DAGGER (1984) as an 80's cult classic, that's no small praise and it's totally warranted here. Fantastically frivolous and awesomely 80's
3.5 outta 5