Brian Trenchard-Smith is one of Your Humble Reviewer’s favorite directors of exploitation fare. The Man From Hong Kong, Stunt Rock, Escape 2000 and Dead-End Drive-In are all top-shelf examples of his approach: he takes exploitation premises, gives them an epic visual style you wouldn’t expect from this style of filmmaking and pushes the film’s exploitable elements as far as the budget will allow. These films sizzle with the kind of excitement you only see in the work of a director who is truly enjoying himself.
So where does BMX Bandits fit into the Trenchard-Smith oeuvre? To be honest, it takes its place on the second tier. It’s unlike much of his other work in that it is designed for children, right down to its ‘G’ rating. The plot is the kind of simple premise you could have seen in a 1970’s live-action effort from Disney. P.J. (Angelo D’Angelo) and Goose (James Lugton) are two teenage bike enthusiasts who run into trouble when they crack up their bikes in a little accident and need money for the repairs. They make friends with Judy (Nicole Kidman!), another bike-crazy teen who needs money for own bike but just lost her job.
Thankfully, the trio’s luck brightens when they stumble across a cache of hidden walkie-talkies and sell them to the local kids. This gets them funds necessary to fund their BMX mania but it also causes them to run afoul of the walkie-talkies’ owner: The Boss (Bryan Marshall) is a criminal mastermind who was planning to use the devices in a heist. He dispatches two goons – Whitey (David Argue) and Moustache (John Ley) – to get the walkie-talkies back by any means necessary. Cue pratfalls and bike-stunts galore…
The end results are reasonably diverting but minor stuff for the schlock fanatic. The script is rather humdrum, lacking the imagination and the goofball flair necessary to rise above its formulaic nature. It also makes the mistake of placing its biggest stunt sequence before the finale – the end stuff is fine but feels lacking in comparison to the big setpiece that closes out its second act. Also, because it is a film made for children, it simply isn’t capable of delving into the kind of outrageousness seen in other Trenchard-Smith films.
However, what remains is still good Saturday-matinee fun. For starters, the cast is likeable and game when it comes to fulfilling the film’s modest dramatic needs. Kidman shows she had camera-ready appeal at an early age and co-star Lugton has a skill for delivering one-liners in a dryly witty fashion. Marshall makes a respectable bad guy (he has a fun monologue near the end that he improvised for the scene) and Argue is amusing as the wackiest of the goons, clearly having a lot of fun with a scene where he impersonates a detective.
However, the most important element of BMX Bandits is Trenchard-Smith’s energetic approach. He broadens the appeal of the film by treating the bike stunt scenes like car chases and adding in fun beats you wouldn’t normally see in a kid’s film, like a fairly intense bank heist and a chase through a cemetery that is stylized like a horror film sequence. He also uses the Cinemascope frame beautifully in collaboration with future Witness and Rainman cinematographer John Seale: the two manage to pack each sequence with vivid primary colors, interesting compositions and plenty of action. A pulsing synth-rock score adds a final layer of fun kitsch.
In short, BMX Bandits doesn’t qualify as top-shelf stuff in the world of Trenchard-Smith but it’s fairly engaging nonetheless, particularly for those who have an 1980’s fetish or nostalgia for kid flicks of years gone by.