Forgotten Films is a semi-regular feature on Film Junk where we explore interesting movies that have fallen off the radar or slipped through the cracks over the years.
If you’ve seen the recent documentary Not Quite Hollywood, about the history of Australian b-movies and exploitation flicks, then you’re probably familiar with the name Brian Trenchard-Smith. Trenchard-Smith directed some of the most beloved cult classics from down under including The Man From Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot, and Dead-End Drive In, before eventually going on to helm some of the later installments of the Leprechaun series. To the average person that might not mean much, but for hardcore genre fans, that basically makes him royalty.
Back in the ’80s, he also took some time away from the carnage and blood-soaked mayhem to direct a family-friendly film of sorts called BMX Bandits. The movie has an interesting claim to fame in that it stars a 15-year-old Nicole Kidman in one of her very first major acting gigs. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this movie as part of a 3-in-1 DVD at the local dollar store (the other two movies are Coach of the Year and The Great Dan Patch — don’t ask). The price was right, so I couldn’t resist taking it home just to see what kind of retro wackiness it might have to offer.
The story is quite simple, and pretty illogical by today’s standards. Three young BMX enthusiasts (P.J., Goose and Judy) stumble across a set of walkie-talkies out by the local dock, which unbeknownst to them, were left by a gang of bank robbers planning to use them to eavesdrop on the police. When the crooks discover that their radios have been pilfered by some meddling kids, they dispatch a handful of goons to recover them at any cost.
I suppose back in the ’80s this might have made some sense, especially if these walkie-talkies were expensive and hard to find, but nowadays it seems pretty stupid that they would waste time chasing after a bunch of kids to get their walkie-talkies back instead of just buying new ones. It also doesn’t make sense that they would secretly stash them at the dock like they are some form of illicit goods, but I guess that’s not really the point. All that matters is the bad guys have a reason to chase these kids all over South Wales, Austalia… and chase they do.
Now I have to admit, I still haven’t seen any of Trenchard-Smith’s other films, so I really had no idea what to expect here. Early on there is a pretty awesome robbery scene involving pig masks and a car driving straight through a store front window, plus some cheeky sexual innuendo, but this all quickly fades away as the movie becomes a little more age-appropriate. Still, a lot of the BMX stunts are impressive, even if the bumbling chase scenes are cartoony and EXTREMELY long and drawn out. The villains actually have guns and cars, but somehow the kids are able to ride circles around them!
It’s pretty obvious during most of the stunts that Nicole Kidman is not the one riding her bike, but the sight of an experienced rider in a hot pink BMX suit passing for Nicole Kidman is pretty amusing. Some standout scenes include a suspenseful (although not particularly terrifying) game of hide and seek through a cemetery at night, and a waterslide chase that is pretty damn awesome. Yes, they actually ride their bikes down the slides — what kid wouldn’t love that? The main characters are pretty generic, but like all good kids movies, there is also a spoiled brat fat kid played for comic relief (listed as simple “Fat Kid” in the credits).
I have to admit that the movie is not quite as hilarious as I had hoped it would be, as it quickly gets repetitive, especially with that ’80s synthesizer soundtrack kicking in every 2 minutes (it has now been permanently drilled into my brain). Still, I suppose that is part of the film’s charm, as Trenchard-Smith does as much as he can with what appears to be a painfully low budget. His inventive camera angles keep it energetic and visually interesting, and at least there are enough clunky one-liners to elicit a few chuckles here and there.
BMX Bandits predates RAD by 3 years, so if you have fond memories of that film or the ’80s BMX craze in general, you’ll probably get a kick out of this. It does share some elements of youth classics like Home Alone, The Goonies, and 3 Ninjas, although it’s nowhere near as competent. The movie still has a strong cult following today, and there is even a Scottish band that have taken their name from it.
The 3-in-1 DVD that I watched was pretty terrible quality (although in a certain sense it kind of added to the experience), so you’d probably be better off picking up the individual DVD release. At least that way you’ll have actual chapter stops. It would have been cooler if they had used the original ’80s artwork though, instead of this sneaky photo of a much older Nicole Kidman.