The Film: Thrashin’ (1986)

The Principals: Josh Brolin, Robert Rusler, Pamela Gidley. Written & Produced by Alan Sacks. Directed by David Winters.

The Premise: Cory Webster (Brolin) dreams of hitting it big as a skateboarder. He travels to Los Angeles – where the thrasin’ is extra hot – to crash with some friends and participate in skateboarding’s biggest competition, the LA Massacre (a 20-mile downhill race). Things get a little West Side Story when Cory meets Chrissy (Gidley), a pretty-in-pink Midwesterner who is visiting her brother in LA for the summer. Trouble is, her brother, Hook (Rusler), is the leader of LA’s most notorious thrashin’ gang, The Daggers. And The Daggers hate the Valley kids, who Cory is friends with. Shit gets heavy. And streets get thrashed!

Is It Good: No. But it is awesome! I love teen-centric recreational sports films like this. Rad. BMX Bandits. Airborne. Manna from heaven. Not only are these flicks full of fun action and hammy storylines, but because they were aggressively pushing fringe youth activities, they’re always amazing time capsules of silly fashion trends and outdated slang. And Thrashin’ is no different.

It’s also fun if the film contains a future star, greenly on display before making it big. BMX Bandits had Nicole Kidman. Thrashin’ has Goonies-era Josh Brolin. Brolin is obviously still a handsome man these days, but it is interesting to see him here during his Tiger Beat beefcake phase, torso all hairless and hair dyed blond surfer style; hinting at the kind of career he ultimately didn’t have. His acting tools here still need a lot of sharpening, but he definitely has a star quality that makes him fun to root for — frankly even more so when he’s bumping up against his limitations and going full Heston, clubbing his fist against the ground to clarify Cory’s frustrations to us. Gidley is solid, if a bit forgettable, as our romantic lead, but the rest of the cast is great. Most of the cast were clearly actual skaters, so while a lot of the acting isn’t exactly good the film has a nice level of believability. And Nightmare on Elm St 2‘s Robert Rusler steals every scene he’s in as Hook. His entrance into the film – skating up over a hill flanked by his posse of goons – has to be one of the best villain introductions from a teen flick. Frankly, Hook is a surprisingly layered villain for a film like this. He’s a macho asshole, but he legitimately cares about his little sister and much of his prickish behavior is plausibly motivated by misguided older brother over-protectiveness. Actually, there are a lot of strangely realistic elements to this otherwise over-the-top cheesefest. Both Hook and Cory are shown to pay a lot of attention to how they look. Especially in Cory’s case, this flies against the typical presentation of heroes, who generally just seem to look stylish through no effort of their own. But there is a scene of Cory dressing and redressing before leaving the house that is embarrassingly realistic, and relatable; and generally something we’re only shown women doing in movies. Even better, though, is Hook agonizing over which earring to wear before an big party. When Christy doesn’t seem to take his plea for her input seriously, he responds “This is important to me.” Genius.

The film has a lot of great overblown moments. None more awesomely ridiculous than the “joust” that Hook challenges Cory to, in which the two guys swing at each other with padded maces while skating a half-pipe; a half-pipe lined with skaters hold glowing flares. This…

For those who live in Los Angeles, this location is easily located near the bottom of Bronson Canyon, which is dandy hiking territory. The half-pipe is a water runoff track for the canyon and kids still skate there.

All the skating in the film is great. I’m not sure how much experience Brolin had going into the production, but he performs a surprising amount of his own stuntwork. I’m not particularly hip to the skating world, but I know that a ton of luminaries of the sport worked on the film, such as Tony Hawk (who did stunkwork) and Stacy Peralta (who did all the second unit photography and guerrilla camera work). The film also has a great soundtrack, featuring songs by groups like Fear and The Circle Jerks. Not to mention the title track “Thrashin'” which is sung, for some reason, by Meat Loaf.

Is It Worth Watching: If you like the other films I’ve mentioned here, or just love dated 80’s films, you gotta see Thrashin’. Watch it with friends. Drunk.

Choice Dialogue: After Cory vaguely explains the concept of “thrashin’.”
What are you thrashing against?
Cory: What have you got?

Random Anecdote: At the time of production, the delicious Sherilyn Fenn (who plays Hook’s girlfriend) was dating Johnny Depp. She convinced the filmmakers to audition Depp for the part of Hook. Director Winters liked what he saw, but writer/producer Sacks vetoed Depp on the grounds of being “too wimpy” seeming. Though this anecdote has the air of a gaff and major missed opportunity, in the context of the time, I have to agree with Sacks. Rusler is the best part of the film. Brolin is a burly guy and it would have been hard to take things seriously with skinny-pretty Depp intimidating everyone around him. Oddly enough, Josh Brolin purportedly turned down the role of Tom Hansen on 21 Jump Street, which ultimately went to Depp.

I swiped all these screengrabs from ILoveHotdogs. There is a shit ton more pics if you wanna check them out.