If you recognize the name Ellen Aim you know your cult sci-fi rock movies, or, as director Walter Hill called his 1984 film Streets of Fire, your "rock and roll fable[s]."
Ellen Aim and the Attackers are a band that plays in an alternate version of the eighties, or maybe an alternate version of the fifties. It's either the eighties that couldn't let go of Elvis and pre-British Invasion rock and roll, or it's the fifties anticipating an urban underclass where everyone is on the edge of violence. Walter Hill loads the movie with a retro neon look, blending genres, similar to what he did in 1979's The Warriors, where he mixed the post-war social-issue movie with the seventies exploitation film, along with some ancient Greek history. (As Cyrus, the would-be savior of all the warrior gangs, booms at us, "Can you dig it?")
Michael Pare (as Tom Cody) stars in Streets of Fire. Cody's just out of the army in a what-if America that still has the social restraints from fifties Tab Hunter movies, but wallows in the corruption and depravity of Reagan's eighties. On this particular morning in America it's raining and everyone's on the verge of killing someone. Willem Dafoe's first appearance as Raven, the villain in black rubber, fresh from God knows what perversity, to the song "One Bad Stud" performed by the Blasters ("If he likes your baby, you can kiss your baby goodbye"), may be what got him typecast as a psycho in so many movies.
But in a fifties movie there has to be a love story. You can't have a guy without a girl. There has to be a Natalie Wood for James Dean, even if the romance is between James Dean and Sal Mineo. In Streets of Fire, Michael Pare's Natalie Wood is Diane Lane as singer Ellen, who Aims her Attack straight at your heart while she caresses one of those old round microphones that look like a hood ornament. Raven kidnaps Ellen and her old boyfriend Tom Cody (Buffalo Bill to the rescue) is called to save her. Unfortunately, Lane doesn't get to do much more than play the frail here.
Cody's real emotional connection is with McCoy (Amy Madigan), another vet who makes Cody hire her to rescue Ellen. McCoy brushes off Cody's half-hearted passes with "You're not my type." McCoy wears greasy old clothes and fixes cars better than Cody so I think I get the point. Especially when McCoy leers at a female nude dancer at the club where Ellen is being held. It seems like the movie was going to be more explicit about McCoy's sexuality but chickened out.
I won't spoil the story but you know how it ends.
I have a soft spot for movies that are original, even if they're not entirely successful. The music's good, the look of the film pulls you into its unique world, and the story is one of those mythic restatements that move you even when you know they're corny.