THE DIRT BIKE KID flies high again on Scorpion Releasing's new HD-mastered DVD.
Jack Simmons (A CHRISTMAS STORY's Peter Billingsley) has dreams of being a dirt bike racer that exasperate his unemployed single mother Janet (Anne Bloom, THAT'S ADEQUATE), especially when he spends their last fifty dollars (and trades in his BMX) on a broken down motorbike unwanted by its bad sport owner Max (Gavin Allen). Jack quickly discovers that the bike has a life of its own as it takes him for rides (and flights) around the city, running afoul of bikers lead by Big Slime (BLIND FURY's Weasel Forshaw) as well as hapless cop Flaherty (Danny Breen, CASUAL SEX?) who gets busted down to a motorcycle with sidecar after wrecking his patrol car pursuing Jack. When bank president Hodgkins (Stuart Pankin, MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE) decides to evict little league coach Mike (Patrick Collins, YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE) from his hot dog shack Mike's Doghouse to build a new bank location in its place, Jack tries to reason with the slimy executive only for him to repeatedly go back on his promises (made in front of cameras at a press conference). When Jack and his bike repeatedly disrupt Hodgkin's attempts to bulldoze Mike's Doghouse, Hodgkins sicks the law – he has the chief (John William Galt, PROBLEM CHILD) in his pocket – and the Big Slime's gang after him.
Not as well-remembered as Billingsley's A CHRISTMAS STORY – or quite as forgettable as DEATH VALLEY or BEVERLY HILLS BRATS – THE DIRT BIKE KID is entertaining but more nostalgically enjoyable than actually genuinely funny or touching like some of the more iconic kids films of the eighties. The plotting really is no more rote than any other example of the genre (or other teenage sporting films) with its underdog, comical villain, and the need to save a hangout from demolition; but Billingsley and his glasses are engaging as usual, and he and Pankin in his usual slimy executive character easily carry the film easily. Indeed, most of the other characters are pushed to the periphery, from Jack's mom, to the coach and his love interest (Sage Parker, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN), to Jack's undersized precociously sexual sidekick Bo (Chad Sheets, MEATBALLS PART II). There is something disturbing about the underlying aspects of the story, with the bike seeming to act on Jack's subconscious desires with or without him at the helm, seeming to throw fits rather than act constructively. At the end when Jack no longer needs the bike after having discovered the magic in himself, the magic seems to be solving life's problems with blackmail and humiliation – although, it is Pankin to be fair – rather than doing the right thing.
Released theatrically by Concorde Pictures and then on cassette by Charter Entertainment, THE DIRT BIKE KID was released by Scorpion Releasing first last year as a limited edition Blu-ray sold by Kino Lorber, and more recently as a standard DVD. Transferred from an HD master of the original IP, the progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is virtually spotless apart from a few rare black spots (cinematographer Daniel Lacambre got his start on Eric Rohmer's SUZANNE'S CAREER and would first work with Corman on THE WILD RACERS and would be a regular DP for the producer during his New World years). It is crisp, colorful, and looks better than much of Corman's eighties output. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is similarly clean with clear dialogue, engine roars, and the theme song "Standing on the Edge of Love" which is appropriately eighties even if the subplot love story has nothing to do with the protagonist and is superficially developed.
Director Hoite Caston goes solo an animated audio commentary, revealing that the original title was CRAZY WHEELS and that he was selected by producer Julie Corman (BOXCAR BERTHA) for his work on NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS. He had not directed a feature before, and as such had not told a story longer than five minutes. He notes that it was also a larger lead for Billingsley (noting that much of his character's "dialogue" in A CHRISTMAS STORY was narration by himself as an adult), and bringing along NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS alums Pankin, Bloom, and Breen. He admits to making some additions to the script of his own (including the "questionable" girl fixation of Jack's sidekick Bo), although he is going by memory since his material for the film is in storage (he does note annoying the cameraman by reblocking scenes after the locations had been lit). Billingsley could not drive a motocross bike, requiring a double (who also doubled for the Max character in the early bike scenes), as well as the challenges to the shooting schedule presented by the bike's constant maintenance. He also reveals that the ropey flying shots were a miniature on an invisible wire swung in front of the camera against real locations.
Producer Julie Corman contributes an interview (9:58) in which she recalls the origins of the project being a combination of her kids' reactions to their local hot dog place being closed to be replaced with a bank (when Pacific Palisades was still a small community) and psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's interpretation of "Jack and the Beanstalk" (the fear of being weaned and mother's milk symbolizing seeking magic solutions to life's problems) in his book "The Uses of Enchantment", and she is credited as "J. Halloran" while the script was the work of THE QUARREL's David Brandes and GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI's Lewis Colick (she also mentions that REVENGE OF THE NERDS' Steve Zacharias was an uncredited contributor). While the film did poorly theatrically, it sold two-thousand copies on VHS and won the Golden Cassette Award. Roger Corman was reluctant to invest in a children's film but would follow it up with THE SKATEBOARD KID in 1993.
Actor Stuart Pankin contributes a humorous interview (29:33) that focuses as much on his overall career as the film. He recalls how much Caston had on his plate on his first feature, and that the director was open to what he could add to his part. He speaks of the professionalism of Billingsley, his NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS co-stars, and the stunts he had to do during the climax. He expresses a general preference for family-friendly film work, and that he knew he was pretty much a comedy actor even though his resume includes dramatic work (particularly early on). Roughly half of the featurette is devoted to anecdotes from his other notable films. Extras are rounded out with the film's theatrical trailer (1:57). (Eric Cotenas)
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