Uncharted Cinema #6: Streets


Katt Shea, USA, 1990, 85 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I heard about this one in passing and always had it on my long list of films to watch. I’m hoping for a gritty, sleazy Verhoeven/Scorcese type film. Looking forward to it.

After: Streets tells the story of a young prostitute Dawn (Christina Applegate), who is on the run from a crooked cop. While escaping, she crosses paths with semi-runaway Si (David Mendenhall), another teenager. They stay together for a bit and grow closer to one another as the cop (Eb Lottimer) continues to track them down.

Lumley isn’t just any crooked cop. He’s a serial killer who has been murdering young girls. Dawn was supposed to be his next victim but she got away. Now he’s after her because she’s seen his face and can identify him.

I’ll be brutally honest. The script isn’t great, the direction is a bit heavy-handed, and the acting is… noticeable. But it’s filmed with so much spirit and earnestness that it becomes something unique and special.

Too many films feel like they don’t invest in what’s going on. Like they are made to profit from a formula or a genre or a trend. Streets does have a formula, that is painfully clear, but the film wears its heart of its sleeve as well. It is a case of not how it was made, but why it was made.

I know that I may not understand the intentions of writer/director Kat Shea. (The film was co-written by her ex-partner Andy Ruben). But the story shown on the screen clearly cares about its characters and the world they inhabit.

Throughout their journey Dawn and Sy meet up with various California street-dwellers. Patrick Richwood puts in a good performance as Bob, the friendly but off-kilter drug dealer. And everyone else they run into feels like they were pulled right off of the streets of California.

Unfortunately, everyone they run into has to deal with the vengeful cop, who is inching close to Dawn as the day progresses. It’s standard thriller material, but that’s not to say there aren’t some good things here besides the sentiment.

For example, there is a riveting chase scene where the cop, on his motorcycle, has caught up to Sy, on his bicycle. It’s very effective with some real tension. And I think it’s pretty obvious that James Cameron watched that scene and was heavily inspired for some scenes in Terminator 2, like the motorcycle chase and the unstoppable cop idea.

Another example is the unique dream-like artistic touches. The monologues for example, especially right before the death scenes of some of the characters. They were strangely affecting, maybe because of what I wrote above, that they seemed based on real people pulled right off of the streets.

The film builds to a nice moody climax and then a denouement that is perfectly melodramatic. It felt like I had been on a journey with these characters, and that I shared in an intense and noteworthy part of their lives, and that part was coming to end.

Streets is a strange bird. There is a lot lacking in the film but it feels like so much more is there when you watch it. The passion to make something special and meaningful can be seen in every frame, and the spirit to do something different can be seen in flashes of great film-making. It’s one of those rare films that captured something special due to a strange alchemy of  story, character, time, place, and tone. It won’t ever be able to be reproduced.

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