Film Review: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Also known as: Fair Is Fair (working title), Billie Jean (Greece video title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Helen Slater, Keith Gordon, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell, Barry Tubb

Delphi III Productions, The Guber-Peters Company, TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“$608 dollars for the scooter your son trashed. That’s what you owe and we’re not turnin’ ourselves in til we get it. Fair is fair! We didn’t start this, we didn’t mean it to happen but we’re not givin’ up til you pay. Fair is fair!” – Billie Jean

I remember discovering this in the late ’80s on the shelf at a mom and pop video store. I thought Helen Slater looked really hot on the VHS box and it also had Christian Slater in it, who I was growing to like a lot around that time. Somehow this came and went in the theaters and my 6 year-old self in 1985 never knew of its existence. Granted, I couldn’t even get my parents to take me to Weird Science back then.

In the ’90s, I feel like this was on TV all the time. I don’t think a week went by without this broadcasting on TBS or TNT, usually on late at night or in a weekend block of ’80s movies.

The main character is named Billie Jean, probably to capitalize off of the super popular Michael Jackson song of the same name. Billie Jean and her brother Binx often times get harassed by local douchebag Hubie, who has the douchebaggiest name ever. Hubie steals Binx’s scooter and ends up beating up Binx and trashing his flashy moped. Billie Jean confronts Mr. Pyatt, Hubie’s dad, and asks for money to fix the scooter. Pyatt brings her upstairs and tries to rape her and tells her she’ll basically have to put out and get the money a little bit at a time. Things escalate, Binx accidentally shoots Pyatt and the kids go on the run, as Pyatt accuses them of robbing him. As the film rolls on, we see how the media spins the story and how Pyatt takes advantage of the situation and tries to profit off of Billie Jean becoming a cult hero by selling merchandise with her likeness on it. Ultimately, this is a film about youth not trusting their elders and about the cult of personality in a time before social media and the Internet.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a cool film and pretty underappreciated in the grand scheme of ’80s teen movies. It certainly has much more to say than the slew of teen sex comedies that were the norm. However, it didn’t do well theatrically and sort of built up its own cult following as the years passed. Sadly and frustratingly, it took a really long time before this ever got any sort of DVD release.

Helen Slater was really good in this and she carries the film. She was able to handle the tough task of her character’s evolution from sweet Texas teen girl to the leader of a generation of kids who had no one to look up to: kids who felt exploited by the adults of the world.

Truthfully, this is a sort of superhero movie, which is funny as Slater played Supergirl the year before this. But for people that said there were no female superhero movies before Wonder Woman came out last year, Helen Slater had already made two, three decades earlier.

The other kids in this: Christian Slater, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman and Keith Gordon all did a fine job too. Peter Coyote played the cop trying to bring the kids in but was also trying to save them from themselves. Coyote was very likable and the contrast between him and Dean Stockwell’s district attorney character was great.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a wonderful coming of age drama that is superbly enhanced by its stellar soundtrack, especially in regards to Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”, which really fit the movie to a T.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Gleaming the CubePump Up the Volume and Hiding Out.

Film Review: Bird On a Wire (1990)

Release Date: May 18th, 1990
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Louis Venosta, David Seltzer
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky

Interscope Communications, The Badham/Cohen Group, Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That’s like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!” – Rick Jarmin

I hadn’t seen this in a decade or so but I forgot how enjoyable this was until I revisited it.

I mean, it has Mel Gibson during the height of his career, coming off of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the Mad Max trilogy. It also has Goldie Hawn who was the quintessential ’80s comedy damsel in distress archetype. You also have them being hunted by David Carradine and Bill Duke, alongside Stephen Tobolowsky, who I will always just see as Stu from Californication. I also can’t forget the small part Joan Severance has in this as a total badass.

Mel Gibson plays Rick but he has a bunch of different names because he has been bouncing around for fifteen years, as he’s under witness protection after sending David Carradine’s drug smuggling character to prison. Carradine gets out, re-teams with his old partner, played by Bill Duke, and they set out to finally take out Rick, the one man that can stop them from going back to their old ways. Rick runs into his ex-fiance Marianne, played by Hawn, and this exposes him to the bad guys. Rick and Marianne then spend the movie on the run from Carradine and Duke, as they are forced to revisit several people from Rick’s witness protection past.

The plot is pretty good, fairly believable and a nice unique narrative twist that calls back to classic noir. Although, this is not a film-noir in any way, really. It’s an ’80s style action movie with a lot of laughs.

The coolest thing about the entire film is the final showdown, which happens at an indoor zoo exhibit that features tigers, alligators, monkeys and other dangerous creatures ready to make lunch out of anyone that finds themselves in their path. I absolutely love the finale of this film and while it has a hokiness to it, it is just a badass and incredibly well shot spectacle. The sequence of Marianne running from the tigers is better choreographed than one would expect from a simple action comedy from 1990.

The other thing that makes this work so well is that Gibson and Hawn have incredible chemistry and are believable as ex-lovers that fell away from one another, only to reconnect and find the spark is still burning strong.

Bird On a Wire is a better movie than it deserves to be, honestly. That’s not a knock against the filmmakers or actors, it’s just that films like these aren’t typically this good.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Lethal Weapon 2Air America, See No Evil, Hear No EvilWildcats and Overboard