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STUDIO: Severin Films
RATED: Not rated (though basically PG)
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
- Director commentary
- “BMX Buddies” featurette with cast & crew
- Nicole Kidman on Young Talent Time
3 Ninjas with BMX bikes instead of Ninjutsu.
Nicole Kidman, John Ley, David Argue
Directed by: Brian Trenchard Smith
In her film debut, Nicole Kidman is the lone female member of a trio of wily Australian teens who are trying to make a quick buck to get sweet new BMX bikes. When they wind up with a package of super bitchin’ American walkie-talkies that a gang of bank robbers needs for their next heist, the kids become a target. But soon they turn the tables on the criminals! *pops rad wheelie*
Somewhat recently, Tarantino ruffled the feathers of nostalgic nerds of a certain age when he likened BMX Bandits to The Goonies, and added that he thought it was a better film. Though his opinion here is kind of hurt by this follow-up quote, “After The Others, this is my favorite Nicole Kidman performance.” Um. What? I can tell you right now, Kidman does very little in this film, as far as awesome acting goes. Even the filmmakers behind the film note (in one of the featurettes) that based on her performance here, they had no idea she would go on to become one of the biggest female stars in the world. Cause she was just okay.
Anyway, BMX and Goonies actually aren’t very similar. They have a similar fun-loving spirit, and feature kids versus adult criminals. But there are only three kids in BMX and they are all teenagers. This also isn’t an adventure movie. There are no treasure maps, pirate ships, boobie traps, and no giant candybar-loving retards. Though Tarantino’s real point was that BMX Bandits was the equivalent film to Australians. It came out in the mid-80’s, didn’t do that well at the box office, or receive particularly great reviews, but has proven to be a monster nostalgia cult hit as the years have worn on because it hit a sweet spot with a particular generation.
Personally, I prefer the Goonies, but that’s cause I like pirate ships and giant retards and don’t really care about BMX bikes. Also, I grew up with Goonies and just saw BMX Bandits last week. That said, BMX Bandits is a lot of fun and I can easily see why antipodeans love it so much.
The acting is all so cartoony and arch that it barely deserves much discussion. Again, Kidman is fine. How anyone can cherish her performance is beyond me though. The real standout amongst the three teens was James Lugton as Goose, the wisecracking pessimistic one. His delivery is so bizarre. He not only sounds British to me, but like a stuffy middle-aged Brit. Which fits his droll and age-inappropriate banter. All the banter between our two lead males is extremely heightened and age-false. It is old-hat at this point for younger people to talk like adults in cinema (these movies are written by adults after all), but Goose and P.J. (Angelo D’Angelo) don’t even sound like adults from the 80’s. It’s almost like someone took the script from a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope Road-picture, and added BMX bikes to it. That’s not an insult. It was my favorite aspect of the film, actually. Their jokes are so corny that you half expect to hear a rim-shot now and then.
I also enjoyed the location. Australian movies that make it to the States generally seem to focus on the Outback. And the films set in Sydney will give us the standard glimpse of the Opera House, but that’s often the last we’ll see of the ocean. BMX Bandits takes place in the suburbs of Sydney are really maximizes the ocean-front locale, utilizing much of the harbor and marina areas. In fact, if you took away the accents, you easily could have fooled me into thinking I was looking at San Francisco most of the time. Brian Trenchard Smith was wise to exploit the gorgeous nature of his location as much as possible, which gives the film a bright and cheery visual tone (all shot in Cinemascope). As does the use of vibrant primary colors separating our trio – Kidman is yellow and pink, Goose is blue, and P.J. is red.
Brian Trenchard Smith was an incredibly bizarre choice for this film. His other films, like Dead-End Drive In and Turkey Shoot (as seen in the great documentary, Not Quite Hollywood) don’t exactly make him seem like the ideal candidate for a kids film. It would have been like Spielberg getting Tobe Hooper to direct The Goonies instead of Poltergeist. But he really gets the material and lends everything a madcap tone. He particularly seems to have fun with the two main goons chasing the kids, who bumble around wackily like Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers. The score even resembles classic Keystone Cops music at times.
The bike action is pretty unremarkable, sadly. Possibly BMX bikes hadn’t been around long enough for anyone to get truly awesome at them yet, but as is, there really isn’t a single appropriately badass biker stunt in the whole film. Unless you think cranking the handle bars after popping off a small jump is badass. I found it kind of adorable that all the characters were covered in protective gear (like no street kids at the time would be). The filmmakers note that they did this because they knew kids might imitate the film, which is shockingly responsible of them. That’s normally the kind of thing a studio forces upon filmmakers.
I imagine fans of this film will snatch up the DVD, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to adults who don’t already love it. This is a kids movie through and through. But I’m also not sure modern kids will necessarily respond to it. Growing up with Jackass and x-treme sports, the BMXers in this film might seem too quaint.
Severin is quickly becoming the Criterion of fringe cinema. The DVDs they’ve been putting out in the past year all seem to contain great hand-crafted special features. The talking-head retrospective here was very enlightening, and though it didn’t feature much of the actors, it had all the creative forces behind the camera, and I found it interesting listening to these old men talk about making their film aimed at kids. Trenchard Smith in particular has a fun attitude towards everything, and was the sole member of the cast/crew who seemed to recognize Kidman’s potential. There is also a segment from an old Aussie show called Young Talent Time, featuring an appearance by Kidman that will probably be fun for any Kidman fans out there.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars