Although I was born in ’83, I’m old enough to remember when BMX bikes of all kinds were the biggest thing in pop culture. I also recall them inevitably seeping their way in to television and movies. I’m old enough to recall my cousins bickering about BMX Bikes, (and girls, and video games) so much so that Hollywood inevitably made a few movies to capitalize on the popularity. Along with “BMX Bandits,” 1986’s “Rad” is a bland and utterly silly attempt to grab some money out of one of the biggest eighties crazes of the decade.
It’s pretty blatant in the way it acts as BMX porn, especially how everyone seems to know how to ride one, while director Hal Needham completely fetishizes the sport. There are shots after shots of bikes going up and down, and flipping, and coasting through the air, all glimmering in the sun light and from the big spotlights of the stadiums. You should go and buy a BMX. Preferably, a “Rad” styled BMX. Ask your parents, don’t be a lame-o and end up being unpopular on the playground. “Rad” is something of an underdog story and romance similar in tone to “Karate Kid,” in which a young Macchio-esque man has to stand up to a superior athlete.
All of this, of course, is thinly veiled patriotic porn, as the pair of young men competed while two greedy old men watch and bet on who would come out the loser. There isn’t a lot of justification for Ray Walston and Jack Weston’s characters, but they’re kind of like more evil Statler and Waldorf. Although Bart Taylor is not as menacing a villain as Johnny Lawrence, he does feel threatened enough by hero Cru to challenge him in to a competition. As for Cru Jones, he’s your all American BMX rider who performs tricks on his bike like it’s a bodily function. In the midst of all of the competition and BMX, Cru finds a purpose in his number one hobby, and manages to find love with Christian. Christian is just as good as Cru, and she’s… a girl!
Joking aside, Lori Loughlin (only two years away from her career making role on “Full House”) is charming as Cru’s love interest that views him as a potential rival, but also finds a gradual affection toward him. She manages not only challenge him personally, but she’s just as good as he is handling the BMX, and director Needham makes sure to flaunt that fact often. While falling for each other, Cru finds the opportunity to win big in a risky BMX race on a course called “Helltrack,” and he has to overcome his insecurities and personal problems at home in order to build the courage and dominate once and for all.
The performances from Bill Allen, Ray Walston and Jack Weston are very good, all things considered, while Talia Shire gives the whole shebang some respectability and clout. Hal Needham directs “Rad” like an MTV music video, with nigh endless musical montages that are meant to compensate for exposition and genuine character development. Needham pumps the screen with eighties tracks like “Send Me an Angel,” “Caught in the Crossfire,” and the title song “Thunder in Your Heart.”
Save for “Prom Night,” “Rad” has the honor of featuring one of the longest most ridiculous prom scenes ever filmed. From the god awful prom dresses and tuxes, horrendous dancing, and the way it all comes to an end with Cru and Christian performing BMX tricks on the dance floor, it’s cringey, but damned if you’ll be able to look away, either. Taken as a novelty of the mid to late eighties, 1986’s “Rad” is charming in its silliness and camp.
Sure, it’s bad, and milquetoast, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for watching it.
Available on Altavod and VOD Friday July 10th; It’s also now available on Special Edition Blu-Ray through Vinegar Syndrome.