By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Although action/sci-fi filmmaker Albert Pyun created a spiritual successor to Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, not everyone is going to take the Road to Hell right away. It’s a distinct type of film—more confusing than anything else—until the last act, where the connections to the original are made. This director certainly has a fondness for Hill’s work, but I have to ask if the creators would endorse the direction in “part two.” Most likely not when considering they had ideas in place for a trilogy had only the movie been a box office success.
I was reminded of this cult classic not too long ago and found an interview with Michael Paré on Forbes from last year saying he was open to giving new life to this neo-noir wild west romp. Whether Cody and McCoy would both return after riding off to the sunset is debatable. They left “The City on the Edge of Forever,” for a tougher life. In Pyun’s work, Cody went back to serve his country one more time and Ellen became that legend Fish promised. But somewhere along the line, she died. Her musical legacy is remembered when her daughter decided to follow in mom’s footsteps.
McCoy died at some point. Whatever feelings Cody had left is no doubt buried. Two losses is unbearable. When there’s no humanity left in him, he’s become a wanted man. The opportunity to insert a certain Bon Jovi song would’ve been great here. Although Gabriel the Angel is supposed to protect him and guide him home, this muse’s influence is miniscule.
As timeless as the original was with its 80s rockstar and musical aesthetics and doling out frontier justice, the continuation takes place decades later and places our charming hero trapped in limbo–lost on some highway. Somehow, getting back home to Edge City is not easy. Had there been a budget to bring that 80s and 90s aesthetic back, namely using AC/DC’s Highway to Hell over an original song, I’d be ecstatic. An angel is our narrator and she reveals that Lucifer wants Cody to lead his legions. The way Paré has aged is simply perfect. All that boyish charm is gone. To make things worse narrative-wise, time has taken its toll on his soul.
After a limited film festival run in 2008, Pyun’s work sadly never got the notice it needed for a proper distribution. The story he wrote suggests Cody became a highwayman after his time in the military. When he meets a Thelma and Louise type manic killer couple, just how bad they all are is more than a cat fight between Caitlin (Clare Kramer) and Ashley (Courtney Peldon) and him. Now, had the ladies represented a bigger organization, like an all-girl biker gang, I’d really be afraid.
I can go with a punk rock or grunge update but unfortunately, the new songs lack punch. The tunes are a lot more country than rock-and-roll. Plus, there’s no Jim Steinman and Ry Cooder to give the new scores that ambience the original is famous for. Jim gets a credit for his song, and the new mix is different enough to be good. Sadly, the whole crossroads idea in the middle of nowhere is missed when Cooder was not asked to be involved. A nod to the legend of Robert Johnson would have been perfect. Instead we have a work that’s neither Dante’s Inferno nor Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice.
I could see a variation of the latter legend work. His journey can mirror Argonautica, where Orpheus had a minor role–helping his fellow soldiers. Like the myth, by the time he comes home to find his love (Ellen) taken again, a bargain with the devil has to be made to redeem the two and return to the light. This idea doesn’t have to exactly follow the myth; we don’t want to see Cody dead after entering Hell for the second time and all that survives is his head. And neither does he have to be the siren with a death song.
Pyun’s vision of what could’ve been would be better had these mythic elements been in play. His visual styling is also in contrast to the original. This director shot a huge portion of it on a green screen and it’s very noticeable.
Also, without Diane Lane, what this movie created is much like The Mummy 3: Curse of the Dragon Emperor. You can’t replace one of the leads without the hard core saying this isn’t right. Anita Leeman is a close Ellen look-a-like to have us remember her as she was from the first film. Although this filmmaker made enough feature films which have proper home video releases, this one doesn’t; Shout! Factory would’ve paired both films in a package deal by Street of Fire’s 30th anniversary. Instead what we have now is self-distributed (rented out) by the director himself, at https://roadtohelldcptheatricalfinal.vhx.tv