A fantastically executed fad film
There’s a very specific Hollywood formula for getting a film onto the marketplace to capitalize on a fad. The kids are breakdancing?! Let’s get some heroes up on the big screen and find a way for them to save the community center through the power of dance! Skateboards are the new symbol of rebellious youth? Let’s find some skater heroes to root for! Rollerblades? Snowboards? Karate? BMX bikes? There’s youthful hero movies capitalizing on all of those fads. Are some of these kinds of films blatant studio cash grabs? Absolutely. Is 1986’s Rad, the BMX version of this formula, one of those cynical titles? Actually, brimming with energy, passion, and an underdog spirit… there’s not a cynical note to be found in the absolutely delightful Rad!
Writers Sam Bernard and Geoffrey Edwards have a hand in crafting such a strong narrative that gets audiences rooting for our local high school BMX star Cru (Bill Allen) as he attempts to uh, “not throw away his shot” at winning a major BMX race replete with corporate sponsorship money and a real chance at making a career of his hobby. The script introduces us to a bunch of lovable heroes and locals, interestingly paints real life BMX company Mongoose as evil corporate overlords trying to keep Cru down and use their corporate money to make stars of their sponsored riders, and setting all of this against ever increasing stakes as the big finale approaches. As Cru battles with his mother (played by the legendary Talia Shire) and ultimately ditches his SATs to take a shot at his dreams, much of the trendiness of the film melts away and you just find yourself rooting for a classic hero to stick it to the man and achieve his underdog dreams. And when the villainous Duke Best (Jack Weston) pulls every corporate trick in the book to try to give his Mongoose corporation the advantage, Rad turns into It’s A Wonderful Life and the whole town comes together in support of Cru and his dream. It’s a glimpse into the purer side of the American dream, in which communities rally and support one another in the face of greed and corruption. Sure, it’s a fantasy. But damn if it doesn’t get the blood pumping.
But all that script work wouldn’t mean much without the energetic execution brought to Rad by its director: legendary stuntman Hal Needham. Needham was exactly the right man for this job. With a cowboy spirit of rebelliousness and a knockaround attitude when it comes to capturing glorious stunt work on screen, Needham infuses energy into the portrayal of BMX bike riding that radiates from the film just as much today as it did at the height of the 1980s trend. Assembling a bunch of stunt professionals and some of the world’s best BMX riders, you’ll see flips, drops, freestyle tricks, and nail-biting races that are every bit as visually captivating as a good old fashioned car chase… something Needham knows a thing or two about.
Needham was also smart enough to know that the fad may be interchangeable, but if you stack the odds against a loveable hero and structure the film such that it really doesn’t look like they can pull it off, the audience will be putty in your hands as long as you deliver the urgency and excitement. Match that with Bernard and Edwards’ stick it to the man script and Cru’s undeniable resiliency and talent, and you’ve got a timeless narrative around which to hang your very specific slice of ‘80s life fad film. So that’s why Rad has aged like Rocky, giving audiences a great time and a genuine hero to root for all set to power ballads that’ll never be topped.
Restored recently in 4K (and released in 4K by Vinegar Syndrome), this steelbook Blu-ray release from Mill Creek Entertainment is a pretty exciting package for those who didn’t get a chance to score that very limited edition from VS. Gorgeous Mondo steelbook packaging, a stunning HD copy of the film, and a whole bunch of new and archival bonus material makes this release an easy recommend. I genuinely loved Rad, and feel that the nostalgic 1980s crowd will too. But beyond that, modern audience will almost certainly fall for Cru and cheer him across the finish line as his ingenuity and talent help him prevail over a cigar chomping fat cat villain.
And I’m Out.
Rad Mondo Steelbook Edition is now available from Mill Creek Entertainment.