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Dirt Bike Kid
Nostalgia is a tricky minefield, especially when it comes to one's childhood favorites. Some of my favorite films from childhood have not only stood the test of time, but have given me new ways to appreciate them as an adult. The Monster Squad and The Last Unicorn are among those titles. However, most movies that we were fond of as children usually turn out to be exactly what they are to begin with: Silly children's films that an adult has no business watching.
The Dirt Bike Kid is one of those movies for me. As 80s kids in America were turning A Christmas Story into the pop culture behemoth that it eventually became, I was busy renting The Dirt Bike Kid on VHS from the corner video store in Turkey. Yes, The Dirt Bike Kid was my quintessential 80s Peter Billingsley movie.
The Dirt Bike kid is basically yet another 80s kid flick that followed the E.T. formula: Ignored nerdy child of a divorced couple regains his self-worth through the help of a benign magical creature. In the case of The Dirt Bike Kid, the friendly creature is, and I'm not kidding, a sentient dirt bike.
It turns out that dirt biking was popular amongst kids during the mid-80s, which lead Julie Corman (Roger's wife, which should tell you all you should know about the style and budget of The Dirt Bike Kid) to produce an E.T. knock-off about Jack (Billingsley), an aloof dirt biker kid who uses his magical flying bike to save his favorite hot dog stand from being taken over by an evil bank. You can't get more 80s than this.
If evaluated on the surface, the cinematography is flat, the acting is awkward at best, and the special effects are laughably bad. Let me put it this way, if you're one of those people who constantly defends the importance of using practical effects, don't show anyone a copy of The Dirt Bike Kid as a way to make your point. The flying scenes basically consist of aerial shots of a metropolitan city spliced with Billingsley looking mildly amused in front of a plain blue background.
The difference in quality between Billingsley's performances in A Christmas Story and The Dirt Bike Kid proves the importance of a director's influence on a child actor. How else can you explain Billingsley's dead on arrival performance in The Dirt Bike Kid merely two years after he gave one of the most endearing child actor performances in A Christmas Story?
Yet there's a way to enjoy The Dirt Bike Kid, and that's by pretending that we're watching a contemporary parody that eschews all of the clichés of 80s movies made for kids. The execution of such a trivial story is so over-the-top and so perfectly 80s, from the cheesy synth score to the ridiculous amount of humanization given to the bike (At one point, cops put handcuffs on it and take it away to human jail), it plays out like an unofficial Lonely Island project, or a sequel to Kung Fury.
The standard definition transfer of The Dirt Bike Kid is very impressive, especially considering the obviously meager budget the distributor had while restoring the film for home video. Apart from a couple of perfectly understandable dirt and scratches on the print, the transfer is very clean and crisp, and showed great definition and contrast while upconverted on my 55-inch HDTV.
We get a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which I think is the result of a mono mix being spread over the two front channels. There isn't any information about the audio transfer anywhere, and I couldn't pick up on any separate sounds or panning between the speakers. The transfer is a bit too tinny and lacks depth and power, but it gets the job done as far as representing the usual low budget sound mixes of the era goes. A big pet peeve of mine shows up here, which is the exclusion of any subtitles, even for the deaf or hard of hearing.
Commentary by Hoite Caston: The director gives a lot of insight concerning the production. It's fairly obvious that Mr. Caston doesn't have a lot of experience recording commentaries, and maybe was a bit too excited to record a commentary for the only feature he ever directed, so he rambles a bit at times.
Interview with Julie Corman: Corman candidly discusses the conception of the film, as well as the casting process, in this 10-minute interview.
Interview with Stuart Pankin: Pankin's delightfully hammy turn as the antagonist of the piece, a typical greedy 80s movie banker, is one of the highlights of The Dirt Bike Kid. Pankin is a delight during this 30-minute interview as he fondly looks back on the production.
We also get a Trailer.
The Dirt Bike Kid is a harmless block of unadulterated 80s cheese. There's nothing unpredictable or even smart about it. Yet it's very hard to deny its charm as a piece of work completely stuck in its particular time period. I'm not eight-years-old anymore, so it's far from one of my favorite movies today, but just like any other silly childhood infatuation, it's hard not to look at it fondly.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com