Color, 1986, 93 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by Hal Needham
Starring Bill Allen, Lori Loughlin, Talia Shire, Jack Weston, Bart Connor, Ray Walston
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Australia may have gotten there first with BMX Bandits, but North America did the BMX '80s movie fad the craziest with Rad. A feast of period pop culture masquerading as a teen movie, this film marked an unexpected directorial swerve for onetime stunt man Hal Needham, who rocketed to fame as the director of Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run. Unfortunately his brand of pure red meat cinema went up in flames with the catastrophic triple whammy of Megaforce in 1982 and Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II hot on its heels. Realizing that teens were the hot new thing, he made another bid for box office success with this bike-crazy outing that intersected his career path with executive producer Jack Schwartzman, husband of Talia Shire (who stars here as a very concerned parent) and father of Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman had made an ambitious bid for Hollywood success with his "unofficial" James Bond film, Never Say Never Again. Of course, Needham's reputation after all his ups and downs still remained intact and he even nabbed an Honorary Oscar just before his death in 2013. How everyone ended up working on a BMX epic is a long story, but you can find out all about it courtesy of the 2020 UHD / Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome.
"You're willing to sacrifice building a solid future for a bicycle race!" That's the mantra you hear a lot in this story about high school student and BMX ace Cru (Allen) who's eager to compete in Helltrack, a high stakes bike competition. The aggressive and unethical bicycle corporate fat cat Duke Best (Weston) has his own personal stakes in hot shot BMX media darling Bart (Connor) and does his best to sabotage Cru, who manages to find love and life lessons with fellow student and bike enthusiast Christian (Loughlin). On top of all that, Cru is given a hard time by his mom (Shire) for choosing Helltrack over his scheduled SAT test, a move that could jeopardize his future. Will Cru find a way to stay in the competition? Will he overcome his self doubts and make his friends proud? Will the town come together to help out when Duke keeps playing dirty? Have you ever seen a single '80s film before?
Though it barely made a blip in theaters during its release from TriStar, Rad became a perennial VHS favorite for years from Nelson. A lot of that may be attributable to its infectious pop soundtrack and the episodic storyline, which can be walked in and out of at random without missing anything terribly substantial. The BMX footage is the real star here of course with Needham and company delivering one eye-popping series of stunts after another, though the most memorable sequence is actually a glittery, slo-mo bike demonstration at the senior prom performed to Real Life's '88 redo of "Send Me an Angel." It's amusing and odd to see Weston and Ray Walston (returning to high school terrain after Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but for viewers of a certain age, the real treat here is Loughlin at the tail end of her wild '80s movie run following Secret Admirer, The New Kids, and Amityville 3-D. She's just as charming here, a long way off from her more famous stint on Full House and her even more infamous college admissions scandal. Then of course there's the soundtrack, which features a batch of bombastic John Farnham songs like "Thunder in Your Heart" and "Break the Ice" along with unexpected audio cameos by Sparks and Eddy Grant.
Vinegar Syndrome is certainly establishing itself as the most unpredictable force out there when it comes to UHD releases based on this, their second offering after Tammy and the T-Rex. The new 4K scan from the 35mm original camera negative looks great with some outrageously saturated reds and blues that threaten to punch into your eyeballs at times. The late '80s film stock isn't exactly the prettiest thing in the world and the film now looks a bit darker than it has on past video editions and cable; fans should be very happy with the upgrade for sure. Only the Blu-ray was provided for review (and frame grabs), but presumably the UHD will look even better. A DTS-HD MA English 5.1 track is included (with optional English SDH subtitles) that goes nuts filling up the front and rear speakers with some extreme separation at times, including heavy surround use during the songs. For purists the original 2.0 stereo mix is also included, albeit only in lossy Dolby Digital. No less than three audio commentaries are included: a new one with Shire and her son (and Rad champion) Robert Schwartzman; another new one with Allen; and the archival track with Allen, Conner, writer Sam Bernard, and BMX riders Eddie Fiola, Martin Aparijo, Jose Yanez, and Jeremy Moser recorded for the DVD edition. As you'd expect they all offer something very different including notes on Jack Schwartzman's involvement, the distribution by TriStar, the location shooting in Alberta, the logistics of capturing all those bike daredevils in action, the casting process, the variety of pick-up shots captured around California, the various pratfalls and early morning shoots on the set, and lots more. The Allen solo track has the most dead air and can tend to lapse into basic recitation at times, but he also has quite a few funny observations (some repeated from his other track like that opening unicorn gag) and clearly remembers just about everyone in front of and behind the camera. The irony of the test score scam interlude isn't exactly lost on him either.
On the video extras side, "The Stuntman Directs" (15m57s) is an archival interview with Needham conducted for "the upcoming Rad documentary," in which he recalls some of his earliest stunt gigs, his path to becoming a director, his familiarity with Calgary after Little Big Man, and the practical demands of executing the bike stunts required for this film (which "changed BMX forever"). Then "Writing Something Rad" (16m43s) features writer and co-producer Sam Bernard recalling writing this after his low budget debut, 3:15, the interjection of the "SAT thing" into his script, and working on this film thanks to Smokey and the Bandit producer Robert Levy (which in turn led to Needham). "Rad 25" (9m17s) features highlights from the film's 25th anniversary event in 2011 in Alberta including a lot of fans with bikes, an impromptu outside Q&A with Allen, and a fun theater recreation of that prom scene. A reel of archival talent interviews (25m19s) features Conner, Bernard, Fiola, Moser, and Aparijo, presumably recorded during the recording of the commentary and filled with more info about how they came to the film from some very different life directions. Finally you get the original music video for "Break the Ice," a little promotional featurette (5m22s) and behind-the-scenes cast interviews (11m1s) from the original EPK complete with some cool production footage, a gallery of production photos (3m45s) from Moser's collection, and the original trailer. The release comes with a limited edition slipcase featuring a 3D lenticular front and holographic back design, plus reversible cover art.
Reviewed on May 21, 2020