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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BMX BANDITS -- DVD review by porfle

One of the most popular Australian films of 1983, BMX BANDITS played right into the growing BMX bike craze of the time and was a big hit among the 8-15 crowd.  People who saw it as kids tend to have warm memories of it, although the main reason for watching this breezy but unexceptional flick today is to see a fresh-faced young Nicole Kidman in one of her first movie roles. 

Along with some chintzy bad-80s title graphics (and the first of several cheesy pop songs), the opening credits feature our two male leads, the dark, hunky P.J. (Angelo D'Angelo) and his spindly pal Goose (James Lugton), gearing up for some BMX action.  These somewhat fetishistic, product-placement-heavy shots were also used in a TV commercial and thus are some of the best-looking in the film.  As P.J. and Goose speed along the Sydney shoreline, we get our first taste of director Brian Trenchard-Smith's great use of scenic locations to enhance the visuals of his low-budget film. 

Cut to a bank robbery in progress, with British actor Bryan Marshall (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY) leading a bumbling gang in pig masks to a big score.  Back at their warehouse hideout, he announces their next, even bigger job which will involve some high-tech walkie-talkies being smuggled in from the States.

Naturally, our heroes stumble across them first, offering them up for sale to their friends in order to help finance some bike repairs.  The Boss orders two of his goons to recover the walkie-talkies from the kids or else, with the resulting chase comprising most of the film. 

David Argue, who's been in everything from 1981's GALLIPOLI to last year's ROAD KILL, plays Whitey.  John Ley, an actor most familiar to me as the throat-injured "bronze" in 1979's MAD MAX, is his partner, Moustache.  These dolts provide most of the film's limp-noodle comedy, with pratfalling Whitey constantly fighting with Moustache over who gets to drive their beautiful black 1972 Ford LTD, which is practically one of the stars of the movie and figures prominently in most of the action scenes.

The standout of the cast, of course, is 15-year-old Nicole Kidman as P.J. and Goose's gal pal, Judy.  Chosen from among 200 applicants for the role, her natural camera presence quickly elevated her character to the forefront (check out the poster) although all of her bike stunts are performed by an 18-year-old male in a wig.

Despite her Brillo hairdo, she's very cute here and it's fun watching her in this early appearance.  For much of the film she's menaced by Whitey and Moustache and eventually kidnapped by the gang, so she gets plenty of screen time to do her stuff.  The chemistry between Nicole and her two co-stars makes their scenes together more enjoyable than this example of their witty dialogue might indicate:

"Listen, if we put our heads together, we can come up with something."
"Yeah...multiple dandruff."

Brian Trenchard-Smith's direction is competent and BMX BANDITS has a lightweight, breezy air despite looking a tad rinky-dink at times.  There's an extended sequence early on, with the three leads evading the two fright-masked goons in a cemetary at night, which is reminiscent of a 50s-era Three Stooges comedy or an episode of "Scooby-Doo." 

Judy's run-in with the bad guys the next day has P.J. and Goose pedalling to her rescue as she flees on foot along a boat dock.  For those of us who like 'splosions, a car blows up real good after being crunched by a hunk of falling scrap iron.

Things really pick up at about the halfway mark when the car-versus-bikes chase begins in earnest. Trenchard-Smith stages the lively action in all sorts of places where these vehicles don't belong, such as an open-air mall and a water park, and the fast-moving sequence is filled with stunts and pleasantly corny comedy.  When Whitey finally gets his big chance behind the wheel of that LTD, his knack for running over just about everything in sight is amusing.

The action moves indoors as the kids duck into an empty warehouse where there's ample room for screeching tires and skidding around crazily.  The finale finds the good guys crawling around atop a speeding garbage truck as the crooks try to make their getaway with a captive Judy.  Here, we also get the obligatory kid-pleasing scenes in which all the BMX'ers in town get together to help thwart the evil grownups.

The DVD from Severin Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 2.0 English stereo sound.  No subtitles.  A fun making-of documentary, "BMX Buddies", features a grown-up James Lugton ("Goose") and director Trenchard-Smith, who also supplies an informative commentary track.  The film's trailer is included as well, along with Kidman's brief promotional appearance on an Australian kids' show, "Young Talent Time."

If you want to see a low-budget action-adventure flick about kids tooling around on little bicycles, BMX BANDITS is pretty much as good as it's going to get.  The characters are likable, the stunts and assorted mayhem are fun, and budding actress Nicole Kidman's presence gives it an irresistible novelty value.  While the film holds no nostalgic appeal for me as it does for so many others--including, not surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino--I found it to be a pleasant enough diversion.

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