Wow, when the heck did the middle of November jump in our laps?!? Mentally, I’m still back in late August trying to figure out how to not go stark raving mad because of all the changes at work. Sheesh. I’m totally neglecting the internet right now (actually it feels like I’ve been out of the game so to speak since the start of the year.) But I’m not writing to complain about my silly life woes, no I’m back to get into a fun head-space, and what better way to do this than by cracking open a bootleg copy of one of my favorite all time movies, the 1986 BMX cult classic RAD.
Growing up in the 80s I had a chance to catch the insane home video boom right from the beginning, what with all of the mom & pop rental shops opening and the initial flood of movie titles on VHS and Beta. My family was a late adopter in terms of getting our own VCR, so instead we’d rent one every other weekend from a little store tucked in a corner of a Gooding’s shopping center down the street from us. As a kid I was a creature of habit when it came to renting movies, not only because I loved watching the same flicks over and over, but also because there were only a handful of titles that I was interested in packed into that tiny rental store. I remember that the store was divided pretty evenly between Beta and VHS, and the little old couple that owned it only ordered the flicks in one format or the other. For some reason my parents only ever really wanted to rent a VHS player, so I was severely restricted in terms of titles to rent. Usually it was a choice between three or four movies, Red Dawn, War Games, SpaceCamp, and RAD, and for some reason the flick that I was always choosing was RAD. It was also around this time that I realized just how much VHS tapes used to cost back in the day. I think on my sixth or seventh rental I got up the courage to ask my mom for a copy of the movie for Christmas, so we asked the rental store owners how much a copy cost. ;’When they told us that a new copy of the movie would run about $110, both my and my mother’s jaws hit the floor. Owning VHS was apparently only for the very, very rich in 1986 (well actually it was aimed at store owners for rentals as the industry really hadn’t caught a whiff of just how much people wanted to own copies of films.)
So I never got a copy of RAD on VHS, and later on when I starting building my own library of films, I was cheated again as RAD has never been officially released on DVD. I had to resort to picking up a bootleg copy on ebay, which was just a crappy port of an old VHS rental ripped and burned to disc. My copy did come with a nice bonus disc though, which included the majority of the RAD soundtrack songs.
The flick begins with the very iconic Tri-Star opening (with the Pegasus running kitty corner into the screen and then leaping over the logo), something that I associate with plenty of Saturday afternoons spent glued to the TV during movie marathons.
Anyway, I thought I’d sort of go through the movie chronologically and talk about the stuff I find interesting. RAD is part of an unofficial trilogy of flicks in the 80s that touch on the 3 main popular extreme (for lack of a better term) sports of the decade (skate boarding, which was covered by the movie Thrasin’, surfing covered in the seriously underrated flick North Shore, and BMX.) Though there were a couple other BMX movies in the 80s (namely the Aussie flick BMX Bandits, which was more about escaping murderous thieves than BMX), none were as cool to me as RAD. The opening features a plethora of professional BMXers free-styling over the credits, set to the rocking Jon Farnham tune, Break the Ice (which deserves to be held up with other 80s triumphant movie rock ballads like Rock Until You Drop from Monster Squad, and You’re the Best from Karate Kid.)
The flick was produced by Jack Schwartzman, the husband of one of the film’s stars, Talia Shire (and father of Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman.) It was directed by Hal Needham, the guy responsible for many of the goofy Burt Reynolds car-centric comedies of the late 70s and early 80s (like Smokey and the Bandit and the Cannonball Run series), so you know that he can handle the fast paced action of RAD.
I think it was during this credit sequence that I got the most jazzed while watching the flick. The pro BMX riders doing all sorts of stunts (which I can only hazard a guess to what the names are by using the internets) would always get me in the mood to go outside and try them myself. Trouble was that I’m horribly uncoordinated when it comes to most physical activities, not to mention that I’m deathly afraid of pain and looking too much like an ass (a trait I’ve since grown out of), so I’d get pumped, go outside to ride my bike (a sweet powder blue and white GT Performer covered in pink GT stickers), fall off once while trying to do a simple trick and then pedal back home in a huff. Pretty sad I know. Guess I would have been the definition of a poser.
Anyway, the flick’s main star is Bill Allen who at the time was a 24 year-old guy who looked a hell of a lot like a young Powers Booth. Playing opposite of Allen was a young Lori Loughlin, who would later on play Uncle Jessie’s girlfriend/wife on Full House for six or seven seasons. Rounding out the cast (in terms of the more known established actors) are Ray Walston of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, Jack Weston (who I remember mostly from Dirty Dancing, Ishtar and Short Circuit 2, but who also had turns in flicks like the Cincinnati Kid and the original Thomas Crown Affair), and H.B. Haggerty (who was a familiar wrestler and starred in another underrated flick from the 80s, Million Dollar Mystery.)
In the above screen caps you can take a gander at two of my favorite 80s BMX memories, the first being a fabled full pipe and the second my favorite freestyle move though I have no idea what it’s called. Basically it’s when someone does an endo, starts pogoing on the front tire and whips the frame of the bike around in circles, stepping over it as it flips around.
The opening credits sequence is one of those (for me) breathtakingly awesome bits of 80s nostalgia and excitement that I revel in like a drug. Between the sickly sweet fist pumping heartfelt ice breaking and right making anthem playing over the free-styling action, and the non stop montage of professional BMX riders doing all your basic tricks and such, it’s just 80s perfection. Every time I hopped on my GT Performer heading out for school in the morning, this is the kind of thing I had in my mind’s eye. Sure, I couldn’t do much besides popping a wheelie or coming to a side-sliding stop, but I always imagined I was just as talented and, well, cool. Never meant to be though.
Anyway, back to the film. The action opens on Cru Jones and his two friends Becky and Luke, splitting up to do their morning paper routes…
What follows is a montage (of which this film has in spades) of the three playing out every possible BMX cliché and fantasy, at least in terms of riding around a local neighborhood goes. There’s riding through construction sites (which was always a favorite of mine growing up within a series of newly built subdivisions…)
…followed by the perfectly timed (or not so much so) jump off of one structure onto a car (and the hilarious wipe out that ensues, complete with straightening of hair and uttering the word “gnarly”.)
To illustrate just how ensconced Cru and his compatriots are in their small town, the local fire department is shown getting their delivery mid-street at the appointed time, as well as a friendly garbage man who obviously gives Cru a ‘lift’ on a regular basis…
Of course, everything isn’t wine and roses. The filmmakers had to make sure and keep an edge to the characters, which is where the ornery residents of the ‘hood come in. You’ve got the guy who doesn’t appreciate his paper thrown into his flower bed, and the most typecast curmudgeon of all time, Ray Walston, who gets a walkway full of spilled coffee and newspaper, courtesy of our hero Mr. Jones.
The sequence ends with Cru in the middle of town staring down an iconic clock tower pumped at another shot at his own best time. Again, though this sequence is pretty cliché, it does address a lot of what it felt like to cut through my own neighborhood, using my regular shortcuts through golf courses, and light woods to get to school or my friend’s houses.
There’s even a nicely executed bit with Cru riding though a specifically rigged section of fencing (again, another childhood fantasy of secret passageways hidden throughout the subdivision), which he then turns to face revealing the plot of the film in an advertisement for Helltrack, a 7-Eleven sponsored BMX event coming to the small town.
Again, the plot is pretty straight forward with the corrupt owner of a BMX company (an actual company Mongoose, who I’m sure didn’t realize how their company was going to be painted when they agreed to be featured in the film) putting on Helltrack to promote one of his star riders, Bart Taylor (played by real life Olympian Bart Conner), and securing a million dollar T-Shirt licensing deal. The catch, and the entry of our hero into the story, comes with a local town hall meeting where the residents want to know if local talent can enter into the race. After some thought, Mongoose owner Duke Best (played with plenty of sleeze by Jack Weston) decides that there will be a qualifying race, the top contenders of which will be featured in the final Helltrack race.
If you’ve ever seen a kids flick in your life you can probably figure out the rest of the film from here. But this is beside the point as the cult status of this film isn’t in its intricate plot shenanigans, but in the 80s laced cheese, and fun BMX sequences. One of my favorite of which takes place in a lumberyard where our heroes have a clubhouse (again, another staple of my childhood fantasies realized on film.) Again, like with the morning paper route antics, this group of BMX nerds is apparently frequently confronted by a local motorcycle cop (played by the iconic H. B. Hagerty) who chases them for sport. In this bit, it involves riding around huge stacks of freshly cut & stacked wood, as well as a mountain of logs that Cru ends up very unconvincingly riding up to evade the policeman (you can see the planks through the logs the stunt rider used to scale the heap.) It’s crazy and over the top set to a goofy fun rock song called Get Strange by the act Hubert Kah.
Of course, there’s also the angle of the Cru’s home life with precocious sister Wesley (place in pitch perfect Peppermint Patty tomboy by Laura Jacoby), and his hardworking depressed mother played by Talia Shire (who brings way more gravitas to the role than the film probably calls for, but is plenty welcome.) Basically, the old push and pull of Cru’s hopes and dreams of becoming an ace BMXer, and his obligation to get good grades and go to college (the money for which his mother works hard to earn.) It’s not enough that there’s a super evil greedy BMX company owner to contend with.
Completing the template set up by films like the Karate Kid, Cru also has to master that perfect race winning BMX trick, the awe inspiring 360 degree mid jump back flip. It’s surely the crane kick of this film, though is eventually more or less useless in the grand scheme of things.
The film really picks up steam with the introduction of the main villains of the piece, Bart Taylor and his twin toadies, Rod & Rex Reynolds (played by the dreamy real life twins Carey and Chad Hayes respectively.) They’re introduced in the weirdest fashion, a parade through the center of town. Granted, the whole Helltrack business would probably be a big deal, but parade worthy? I don’t know. Of course, blowing into town along side Bart, Rod, and Rex is the lovely Christian Hollings (played by the one and only Lori Loughlin, who looks about ten years older than the character she was cast to play.)
One of the weird themes in this flick involves our hero Cru not always portrayed in the best of lights. As I mentioned in the beginning of the film he’s not the best paperboy, annoying shop keeps by riding through their stores, and knocking coffee out of senior citizen’s hands willy nilly. There’s also a short bit with Cru jumping a fence into the school parking lot right into the middle of a group of yuppie teens, who granted probably deserved it, though it’s still unprovoked and not the nicest. During the parade, there is a weird sequence where Cru and his friends stop the parade to let a lady in a car on a side street through the traffic, but then to the angry sneers of the evil BMXers and being chased by the local fuzz, Cru beats a hasty getaway by jumping his bike onto a car and riding over it. Maybe it’s just the crotchety old curmudgeon in me, but this would have pissed me off and I’m sure dented the hood and roof to hell and back. Maybe I’m just getting to old to appreciate these teen action flicks.
By far, my favorite sequence in the entire film revolves around a school dance that Bart, Rod and Rex are forced to attend while in town. The scenes feature two of the zaniest, most ridiculous dance sequences ever put to film (including both Rodney Dangerfield performances in Caddyshack and Back to School.) The first is the stupendously retarded evil line dancing bit, set to the song Music That You Can Dance To by Sparks. Bart Taylor is decked out in his supremely “cool” suit jacket over a plain yellow T-shirt looking like a reject Billy Zabka clone and is dancing with a hussy all gussied up to look like Debbie Harry. They’re both so stiff and trying way too hard to exude sexiness that they come off laughable, particularly in their Macarena-like dance moves (don’t you dig the crossed arms grasping the shoulders dance move?) The look of evil intensity on their faces is offset by the absurd faux break dancing styles of the Reynolds twins dancing around a zebra-striped, skintight-lycra-wearing shell of a woman. Hands down, the evil dancing craziness reaches a nice crescendo when the twins drop to the floor doing the god awful push-ups move, followed by a double dose of the worm that has to bee seen to be believed.
As all this is going on inside, Cru (who has come to the dance Dutch after being rebuffed earlier in the film), is doing a bunch of freestyle BMX tricks outside the school gym. A crowd begins to gather, when all of a sudden Lori Loughlin arrives and a very tenuous, yet lasting connection is formed between the two star-crossed lovers…
…which leads to the single most insane dance sequence ever!
Set to Real Life’s Send Me an Angel, Cru and Christian proceed to rip up the floor BMX style, dancing on their bikes. The above screen captures just don’t do this sequence justice. In fact I don’t have the words to adequately describe just how over the top, hilarious, and amazing this sequence is (check out youtube for the proof and judge for yourselves…)
This craziness is followed by a lightening fast procession of falling in love montage scenes set to With You by John Farnham. Again, it’s predictably hokey, but lovable just the same and ends with the oddly named Ass Sliding scene. Why is there a nice concrete slide in the middle of the woods leading down into a nearby lake? Don’t know, but it makes for some zaney love scenes…
Again, adding to the idea that Cru isn’t the best person in the world, he ends up sort of cheating during the Helltrack qualifying races by riding outside of the boundaries to avoid entangling with the other racers, and skipping over obstacles. It’s a weird message to send to kids, and it sort of ends up muddying the film a bit. Ces’t la vie though. The sequence is scored by the rocking Thunder in Your Heart by John Farnham, which is equally as high five inducing as the opening song Break the Ice. It’s rare that a movie like this get two fist pumping anthems…
Of course, by taking part in the qualifiers, Cru has to pass up on taking his SATs, and really pisses his mother off.
To complete the clichéd plot, Cru is wooed by both Duke Best and the evil BMX hussies to come ride for them, and just as soon as he turns them down, our hero finds more obstacles in the way of riding at Helltrack…
Enter the last bit of cult styling to the movie with the introduction of the Rad Racing team, as Cru and his friends find that they have to have a liquid corporate sponsor in order to ride at Helltrack. The group decides to print up their own T-Shirts with their newly formed team logo and sell them to raise the money they need to race.
Of course in all the ruckus there is some strife for the blossoming relationship between Cru and Christian. If this film holds the record for the most insane dance sequence, then it also holds the record for the corniest make-up love scene involving a god awful poster featuring pandas and ice cream, reenacted by the two doe-eyed lovers.
As a quick aside, take a look at that monster comic book rack in that ice cream/convenience store!
Again, falling back on the Karate Kid template, the film features a ‘sweep the leg’ moment as Duke Best informs Bart, Rod and Rex that they need to wipeout Cru no matter what it takes (punctuated by Weston knocking back some whiskey.)
The film builds to the crazy BMX track called Helltrack, and boy does it live up to its name. Featuring an almost two story vertical drop and some craze jumps (for standard BMX bikes at least), not to mention a giant cereal bowl (of Kix no less), Helltrack was a very convincing set piece.
Again, another strength of this movie was that it featured a bevy of real BMX superstars…
A). Team Hutch – Jeff Ingram. B). Team Robinson – Richard Fleming. C). Factory DK – Robert Rupe. D). Powerlite – Danny Millwee. E). Redline Team – Scott Clark. F). Norco – Kirk Bihun. G). GT – Mike Napareho. H). Binghams Schwinn – Glen Adams. I). Peddle Power Rider – Chris Phoenix. J). Team Robinson – Travis Chipres. K). GT – Eddie Fiola (who also did most of the stunt riding for Cru in the Film as well as being the Technical Advisor on the stunts.) L). GT – Kevin Hull. M). Skyway – Richie Anderson. N). Vans – Beatle Rosecrans. O). Hutch – “Hollywood” Mike Miranda.
All in all, this is one of my favorite cheesy films from the 80s, one that I can watch a hundred times in a row and never get tired of. I’m sure true BMX fanatics can’t stand the flick, but as a kid I loved it to pieces. Hopefully one day it’ll get a true DVD release, but in the meantime I hear that Bill Allen is signing copies of the bootlegs (as well as selling headshots.) Also, don’t forget to check his site for some more Rad trivia, straight from Cru’s mouth…