‘Rad’ bunnyhops into our hearts and becomes a nostalgic gem

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RadRAD POSTER
Directed by Hal Needham
Written by Sam Bernard and Geoffrey Edwards
1986, USA

It’s going to take a lot more than skill for Cru Jones to conquer the toughest BMX challenge in the world. It’s going to take a miracle.

Rad, made three years after Nicole Kidman’s BMX Bandits, remains the most popular BMX film to date; which isn’t saying much since there have only been a handful of BMX films ever made. A product of the 80’s, Rad seems more interested in ramping up as much product placement as it could squeeze in, than in character development or plot – but longtime Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run) does the best he can with the script given to him. In fact, Rad fits so well into Needham’s oeuvre that it’s no wonder he offers a stunning opening 8 minute BMX montage and a 4 minute potpourri of X Games-worthy bike stunts to accompany the closing credits. Rad is hardly a classic but it has found a huge cult following throughout the years. Perhaps it is because there are so few films made that are centred around the sport, or maybe nostalgia for the 80’s is the reason viewers revisit the film decades after its release. Whatever the case, Rad is a late-summer joyride that slides, wheelies and bunny hops its way into our hearts.

Rad is probably the first and only movie made in Hollywood which the studio pretty much refused to profit from. Produced by co-star Talia Shire’s husband Jack Schwartzman (father of Jason), this 1986 movie about BMX racing, ended up grossing over $2 million dollars during a very limited platform release. Which makes me wonder how much money it would have made had the studios released it wide? And after all these years, despite petitions, the film has never been officially released on DVD or Blu-ray.

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Rad isn’t so much dated, as it is a product of its time, but to be honest, this underdog sports movie will only appeal to those who grew up in the decade, or those of us who still ride a BMX. The script by Sam Bernard and Geoffrey Edwards follows a straight forward, by-the-numbers structure – a small town teenage boy named Cru (Bill Allen), must choose between a qualifying spot in the upcoming Helltrack BMX race and his SATs toward college, both of which take place on the same day. Of course, our hero chooses the qualifying heats thanks to some encouragement from an out-of-town girl named Christian (Lori Loughlin) who enters the race herself: “It took me six months to air-walk; it took you one afternoon,” she tells Cru. But not everyone is supportive. Enter Talia Shire (Rocky), as the hero’s mom who naturally tries to persuade her son out of entering the competition. “You’re willing to sacrifice a solid future for a bicycle race,” says the hero’s mom. ”It’s very self-destructive.” The plot eventually concerns the small town’s effort to raise $50, 000 to sponsor Cru in the race; meanwhile Olympic gymnast Bart Conner makes his screen debut here as the World’s BMX bike champion and Cru’s chief opponent, a racer backed by a megacorp who will do whatever it takes to win. And when the big day arrives, both Cru and Bart learn a few things about competition, friendship and corporate greed.

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Rad is really all about BMX bicycle racing, and when it sticks to the bikes, it’s not only pretty entertaining but it also provides some of the best demonstrations of early BMX riding ever captured on celluloid. Needham, who made a career either driving or directing cars, has fun staging the BMX race through the small-town obstacle course named Helltrack – and he even went so far to hire prominent BMX-ers of the time to perform the stunts and tricks including bunny-hops, sliders, 180’s, 270′, 360’s, tail-whips, smith grinds, double peg grinds, bar-spins, can cans, hangs, nose manuals, inverts, grasshoppers and so much more.

Of course, Rad couldn’t be a great ’80’s movie without a heavy dose of cheese. In one particular sequence, Needham has his two leads, Cru and Christian posing and balancing themselves on BMX bikes at a high school dance. As the couple pull an assortment of cycling tricks, edited in slow-mo, Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel” plays in the background. Scenes like this will surely turn off some viewers, but in some strange way, it only makes Rad more special for those with an affection for the 80’s.

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I’ve included Rad in my column titled, Greatest Cult Films. It isn’t aesthetically a great film, nor does it tell a good story, but it doesn’t really matter. Being great isn’t always about the talents behind or in front of the camera, but about what the film means to moviegoers world-wide, and more importantly about how is stands the test of time. Rad is a time capsule, and virtually every frame of the film acts as a love letter to a bygone era and a less cynical time. Rad is a nostalgic gem.

– Ricky D

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