The more famous a star, the more curious their early, pre-icon efforts become. Thus, we watch agog as Humphrey Bogart plays a murderous, blood-thirsty zombie in The Return of Doctor X (1939). And here, a 16-year-old Nicole Kidman makes her debut as a BMX-obsessed teen who runs afoul of a group of not-very-competent gangsters. Once again, one watches agog.
Kidman, Angelo D’Angelo and James Lugton are the trio of teens who need to raise funds to buy new bikes. They happen across a cache of walkie-talkies that are supposed to allow a gang of bank robbers to hear the police while being unheard themselves (though, as matters develop, the opposite is true), and sell them. Understandably irked, the thieves pursue our heroes, and all sorts of car vs BMX chase scenes ensue.
This is a likable little movie, with appealing leads and a rather laid-back, unhurried vibe – perhaps a little too unhurried, as there is a distinct lack of urgency to the proceedings. Nonetheless, as chaos unfolds in its unthreatening way (such as when the confusion created by the walkie-talkies transmitting on unauthorized bands leads to mass destruction on construction sites), it’s hard to feel a certain fondness for the film, along with a nostalgia for someone else’s childhood.
The print is in excellent shape, and the transfer is impeccable. The Australian sun sparkles over eye-popping colours. There is a little bit of grain visible in the night scenes, but is nonexistent during the (more common) day sequences. The image is extremely sharp, and it’s safe to say that anyone who saw this on an initial home video release has never seen the movie like this. The aspect ratio is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The track is a Dolby 2.0, and that is just fine for what we have here. A 5.1 remix would have been rather superfluous. As things stand, there are still some good FX cues coming out of the rear speakers, and the music (as Casio-like a synth track as one can imagine from 1983) is well handled, and nowhere near as tinny as, I confess, I might have expected. Plenty of nice, loud whoops and whooshes coming from the keyboard during the BMX stunts, natch.
Commentary Track: Director Brian Trenchard-Smith does the honours, and kudos to Severin for getting a director’s commentary on a 28-year-old obscurity. Trenchard-Smith is clearly very fond of his movie, but he doesn’t let himself off the hook, either, pointing out moments (such as rather limp shotgun blast) that could have been handled better.
BMX Buddies: (38:02) A very nice documentary reuniting most of the principle talent behind and in front of the camera (minus Kidman, or course). This is an interesting look at how a kid’s movie emerges from what an exploitation-oriented industry.
Nicole Kidman on Young Talent Time: (2:33) Kidman may not be talking about the movie now, but back in the day, she put in her time promoting the feature, as she does here, in amusing clip that I’m amazed hasn’t had more hits on YouTube.
Quentin Tarantino’s blurb, that “If we’d grown up in Australia, BMX Bandits would have been our Goonies” is a little over the top, but it’s hard not to warm up to this good-natured effort.