Long before she became an international superstar, and before she started marrying problematic men, Nicole Kidman was just another an Australian lass rocking the sort of frizzed-out hairdo that would later come to be popularized by Sideshow Bob. BMX Bandits, from 1983, represents her first big starring role, and it’s a goofy action-comedy romp that — a bit of a cultural disconnect notwithstanding — still holds some fun for the young at heart, in particular for seeing Kidman outfitted in such gorgeously tacky racing attire. The cover of the new DVD release bears a blurb-rave from none other than Quentin Tarantino, equating the movie to Goonies, but an even better sort of emotional comparison might be something like Better Off Dead, to which this solid international commercial performer serves as a sort of an official cousin/forerunner.
The story is unabashedly constructed to seize upon the then-popular trend of BMX bike-riding, centering around a cache of stolen police-band walkie-talkies, a trio of teen pals, and the ruthless yet hapless would-be robbers (think Home Alone) who pursue them through a variety of graveyards, shopping malls, construction sites, golf courses, and water parks in picturesque New South Wales. Goose (James Lugton, above center) is the droll and sensible kid, P.J. (Angelo D’Angelo, above left) is the anything-goes quasi-love interest, and Kidman’s Judy is the unlikely ringleader. Their foils are slapstick-y, live-wire Duane (David Argue) and his more earnest straight-man, Povic (John Ley), working for a main villain known only as The Boss (Bryan Marshall). Hijinks ensue, to the tune of some mind-meltingly, insidiously catchy, cheesy synth pop.
Produced when it was, and with a clear and understandable commercial bent, BMX Bandits is one of those movies that holds up largely to the extent one wishes it to, if that makes sense. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot) helms the action nicely, and the setting certainly offers up some gorgeous locales, no doubt. If the material is rather assertively unambitious, the acting is of a piece, and designed chiefly to tickle the funny bones of teens and tweens who never tire of seeing goofy and misguided adults meet their comeuppance. No harm, no foul, in other words. And for Kidman completists and fans of unapologetically uncomplicated ’80s pop cinema, it’s rather a delight.
The new Severin Films release is a lovingly assembled thing, coming to DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen release with an English language 2.0 stereo audio track. In addition to the movie’s trailer and previews for three other Severin releases, there’s a nice audio commentary track from Trenchard-Smith. The main bonus feature, however, comes by way of a comprehensive, 38-minute making-of documentary that includes interviews with Lugton, Trenchard-Smith, writers Patrick Edgeworth and Russell Hagg, and a couple producers. Among the revealed bon mots: originating writer Hagg finalized the title after flipping through the dictionary, aiming for alliteration; the story, originally built around 9- to 11-year-olds, was tweaked to accommodate teenagers; Kidman fretted about being fired from the production after spraining her ankle during the movie’s graveyard scene; and Kidman’s stunt double was actually a teenage boy, because the filmmakers had trouble finding a girl rider who visually approximated her tallness and slender frame.
Finally, the producers get around “the Kidman problem” (which is to say her lack of participation here) by throwing on the disc an old two-and-a-half-minute TV appearance clip of her, from a show called Young Talent Time. Standing amidst Australian tykes and chatting with the host, the then-16-year-old Kidman stresses that she didn’t do most of the stunts. There’s no mention or explanation of that hairstyle, though. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)