During the 70s and 80s, it seemed Australian filmmakers seized upon any excuse to make a movie with loud muscle cars and over-the-top action. Even in a kid's picture, any opportunity to include wild, elaborate car chases served as the perfect occasion. The 1983 film, 'BMX Bandits' features one such chase with a thunderous, almost scary-looking car dangerously pursuing three kids on bicycles through the streets of Sydney. The action includes a memorable scene inside one of those huge water slides at an amusement park, and the whole thing takes up a good quarter of the flick's runtime. To downplay some of the suspense — and make it kid-friendly — the sequence is done with three clever kids and a pair of bungling criminals straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
The adventure movie is directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who also gave us the silly 'Stunt Rock,' the shocking exploitation feature 'Turkey Shoot' (aka 'Escape 2000'), and the awesome 'Dead End Drive-In,' which mixes the thrill of muscle cars with the joys of drive-in films. He makes an interesting choice for a story aimed at younger viewers when his previous works — as well as his later pictures — are without a doubt intended for mature audiences, full of graphic violence and content. But he also appears perfectly suited for the task, giving the movie a good deal of excitement while never letting it fall into questionable territory. Even as two boys hang for dear-life on the roof of a large truck, 'BMX Bandits' feels like a genuine teen flick, however cheesy and dated it is today.
Before seeing these kids thwart the efforts of some rather incompetent bank robbers, we first meet the three teens (Angelo D'Angelo, James Lugton, and a very young Nicole Kidman) trying to raise money for the purchase of new bicycles. Luckily, they stumble upon a box loaded with walkie-talkies and sell the entire lot to others. Unbeknownst to them, the criminals (David Argue, John Ley and Bryan Marshall) have altered the merchandise to pick up on the police radio frequency and stay one step ahead of the authorities before their next heist. With the assistance of some horribly corny and unintentionally hilarious sound effects — heard only when a stuntman performs a random bike trick — the BMX'ers use their skills to outrun and outsmart the bumbling goons.
The movie features a sixteen-year-old Nicole Kidman in one of her earliest roles, and it's usually best remembered for that fact. Even at that young age, the future Hollywood starlet showed much promise as a beautiful scene-stealer. The big, curly red hair and piercing blue eyes are quite distracting when trying to pay attention to certain plot points. For fans, the Australian flick comes with other celebrated moments, as in the long-winded chase sequence and the water slide. The one scene I find myself still enjoying after nearly thirty years is the kids running through the old cemetery at night. The two crooks follow them, wearing creepy-looking masks while the music adds to the Halloween-like atmosphere. Then there's the fat kid who doesn't do much except act like a overweight clown.
'BMX Bandits' is an amusing little feature, possibly even awesome as long as one doesn't take it too serious and simply enjoy its overwhelming corniness. Full of bad acting and bright, neon-colored clothes, it's a blast to the past for those who first watched the movie as kids, wishing they owned a bike and wanting to perform the same stunts. (No wonder filmmakers saw fit to include a warning for young viewers during the end credits.) Of course, part of the film's pleasure is in the nostalgia factor and not much else. Still, for contemporary kids who are into BMX, it's a fun and satisfying look at the old school, back when their parents enjoyed watching much of the same stuff they do today.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'BMX Bandits' arrives to Blu-ray from Severin Films on a Region Free, BD25 disc and housed in a regular blue keepcase. When placed in the player, the disc goes straight to the standard menu selection with full-motion clips.
The BMX'ers ride unto Blu-ray with a very nice, spruced up 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that only adds to the movie's fun, cartoonish elements.
Daylight exteriors are, of course, the high-def image's best moments, with crisp, spot-on contrast, providing a beautiful view of the Sydney-coast. Except for a couple of minor hot spots and one instance of posterization towards the end, the picture quality is rather fantastic during these sequences. Primaries are richly saturated and vivid, giving the movie plenty of pop and character, while secondary hues are stable and varied. From the outfits of the kids to the design of the bikes, fine object and textural details are clearly defined and distinct, looking quite splendid for a film nearing its 30th anniversary. Blacks are mostly deep and stable with average shadow delineation.
The only visible issues are related to poorly-lit interiors, where the natural grain structure becomes more pronounced and resolution dips noticeably. But these scenes are likely a result of the original photography and not a fault in the digital transfer. All things considered, 'BMX Bandits' looks great on Blu-ray.
Severin Films also includes a shockingly attractive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which gives the movie a playful and energetic characteristic.
Restrained entirely to the front speakers, the lossless mix displays perfect balance between the channels with movement and pans rendered flawlessly. Dynamic range is incredibly sharp with room-penetrating clarity, creating an imaging that's strikingly spacious and welcoming. Musical cues participate in this warm soundscape by spreading evenly across the soundstage and maintain wonderful audience engagement. There's not much of a deep bass to the design, but a subtle low end can be heard in the high-rez track, particularly in the few moments of physical action. Discrete effects are convincingly heard off-screen while vocals are terrifically prioritized amidst all the fun and chaos. It's not a knock-your-socks-off audio quality, but for an 80s kids flick, it's an excellent stereo presentation that does the job right.
Severin offers a very light but somewhat amusing collection of supplements for this Blu-ray release of 'BMX Bandits.'
Brian Trenchard-Smith's 'BMX Bandits' is the kids action comedy themed around the popular sports bike of the 1980s. The movie is amusingly entertaining, full of silly humor and BMX stunts, and it features a teenage Nicole Kidman in one of her very early roles. The Blu-ray from Severin Films comes with strong picture quality and a great audio presentation, but supplements are quite lacking for a small cult favorite. Still, the package is a satisfying deal for fans, and others should check it out for a fun and cheesy 80s movie night.