- Title: Rad
- Release Date: March 21, 1986
- Director: Hal Needham
Rocky Balboa. Daniel LaRusso. Cru Jones. “Cru who?” you ask? Let’s get into the history of one of the lesser-known ‘80s cult movies. Inspirational movies were a dime a dozen in the ‘80s, with everyone wanting in on a piece of the action after Rocky proved to be a lucrative, sequel-pumping machine. With movies featuring accessible sports like boxing and martial arts covered by Rocky, The Karate Kid, and their respective sequels and rip-offs, movie producers turned to the quickly-growing fad of BMX bicycle racing for the premise of the 1986 inspirational sports movie, Rad.
After a (dare I say it?) radical opening credits sequence featuring unrelated stunt bicyclists (special shout out to “mullet guy” and his A+ front tire pogo tricks) and set to the infectiously cheesy “Break the Ice” by John Farnham, we are introduced to Cru (yes, Cru) Jones, a teenage boy who lives in the small town of Cochrane and breathes BMX racing. Whether he’s perfecting his vast array of tricks or using his newspaper delivery job to test his racing skills, Cru can’t be separated from his beloved bike, despite his mother’s (Talia Shire, Mrs. Balboa herself) disapproval. While Cru is unable to convince his mother that his bike racing is as important as studying for college, he has the undying support of his friends and kid sister Wesley, who is basically a foul-mouthed version of Punky Brewster.
“The world would be a lot better off without kids!”
When Cru isn’t actively annoying the elderly while working his paper route (this sequence feels like it could have been expanded to the point of making this an adaptation of the video game Paperboy) or actively annoying his co-workers at his deli/restaurant job, he’s actively annoying local law enforcement – specifically the comedically-moustachioed, bald-pated Sergeant Smith. Smith and Cru have a bit of a tradition in which the motorcycle-riding police officer chases Cru as he creates mischief riding his bike through construction sites and lumber yards. The romantic tension between the two is downright palpable.
Little does Cru know that his small town is about to become a hotbed of BMX activity, as Cochrane’s rich elite strike a bargain with *deep breath* the President of the Federation of American Bicyclists and owner of Mongoose Bicycle Company, Duke Best. Best plans to host a BMX race called Helltrack in Cochrane with a grand prize of $100,000 and a new Corvette. Of course, Best’s own Mongoose-sponsored race team, which consists of top cyclist Bart Taylor and twins Rod and Rex (yes, really) Reynolds, is heavily favored to win, but Best decides to hold a qualifying event for local cyclists to drum up some hype for Helltrack. Any of this sound familiar, Rocky fans?
The Mongoose-sponsored racers get their own introduction via a parade through Cochrane, in which they belittle the town’s civilians, hit on women, and generally act like worthless human beings. Remember the scene early on in Game of Thrones where the villainous Lannisters are introduced after arriving at Winterfell? Yeah, it’s basically that, only with much worse hair and fashion. An unwilling participant in the Mongoose entourage is top-ranked female racer Christian Hollings (Lori Loughlin, far better known for her roles in Full House and The 2019 College Admissions Scandal), who turns down Bart’s advances and ignores the Mongoose team’s idiocy like a pro.
Send Me An Angel
The forces of good and evil eventually clash at the high school dance, which is one of the funniest scenes, intentional or not, in any ‘80s movie. Bart and his cronies begin to steal the attention of the locals, making a scene as they dance with the local girls. The fashion in this scene is astoundingly bad, with Rex and Rod looking like Patrick Bateman if he were wearing a costume from Buck Rogers as they double-team a girl in a skin-tight zebra pattern outfit. Cru opts to show off his bike tricks outside the gym and catches the eye of Christian, who leads him to the dance floor.
What happens next is the stuff miracles are made of. As Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” plays (remember that from The Wizard?), Cru and Christian dance… while still on their bikes. Like some sort of neon-drenched, shoulder-padded mating ritual, the two perform coordinated bike stunts in slow motion as a crowd of revelers, who look like they’re dressed for a church hoedown, looks on. The spectacle eventually ends, and Cru and Christian are now officially an item.
There are some scenes of gratuitous flirting, including one in which Cru and Christian spend several painfully long minutes “ass-sliding” (it’s a stupid term, I know, but Cru insists on saying it about 72 times) down an open pipe that leads to a river. They ass-slide in slow motion. They ass-slide in regular motion. Whatever it takes to pad the sequence through John Farnham’s saccharine ballad. Everything seems perfect for Cru as he enters the qualifying event (set to another classic John Farnham song, “Thunder in Your Heart”), which he ends up winning, earning him $10,000 and a trip to Helltrack. Even his perpetually-glaring mother finally relents and tells him he can put off his secondary education until after Helltrack. What a mom!
Moving the Goalposts
Duke Best and his cronies, worried about the threat that Cru poses to their Mongoose team, alter the qualification requirements to prevent Cru from competing in Helltrack. First, they state that a sponsorship is required; when Cru and his friends use the qualifying race prize money to create their own “Rad Racing” company which they use to sell shirts and merchandise, Best then says that the sponsor needs to cough up $50,000. With tensions running high and Cru losing hope, the town’s adults who he spent the first act of the movie harassing and annoying decide to rally behind him, pooling their money together so he can participate in Helltrack.
At last we arrive at Helltrack. The lines are drawn and the stakes are set, and Best orders Rex and Rod to “take out” Cru during the race to clear a path to victory for the Mongoose team. Unfortunately for Best, Bart’s competitive spirit shines through in the end. He takes out his own thuggish teammates and, while in the lead, slows down to challenge Cru to a one-on-one race to the finish. Bet you can’t guess what happens next!
An Overlooked Legacy
Rad is entertaining ‘80s cheesiness from start to finish. Director Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run) was famous for his career as a stuntman (Brad Pitt’s character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is supposedly inspired largely by him), and this shows throughout the movie. The bike tricks alone are impressive, but there are some truly painful looking wipeouts during the race sequences that make the otherwise rote racing sequences fun to watch. The bike tricks themselves are also a joy to watch, and should please those who just don’t find the county fair stunt bike shows to be up to snuff.
The licensed music of Rad defines the term “butt rock.” It’s gloriously cheesy and adds to the various montages immensely. “Break the Ice” and “Thunder in Your Heart” in particular, with their gleefully stupid lyrics (“You can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder!”) and catchy guitar riffs, should be a staple of everyone’s workout playlist. The musical score itself is appropriate for the time, but is a little heavy on the saxophone.
Rad certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I consider it to be required viewing for anyone who even remotely enjoys B-movies. It was a flop at the time, and is unfortunately a bit difficult to get a hold of these days, with official copies being all but non-existent. Watch it however you can, because they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.