Fantastic Fest kicked off this year a day early with a special treat for fans of Bicycle Motocross (BMX). Prior to a screening of a newly restored 4K version of the 1986 hit RAD, the street outside the Alamo Drafthouse became a stage for Austin’s 512 Wheelie Crew.
Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into any genre.
The film, which stars Bill Allen, Lori Loughlin (90210, Full House), and Talia Shire (Rocky, The Godfather), focuses on a paperboy named Cru, played by Allen, who leads a bunch of wannabe BMX racers. The town builds an epic BMX racetrack named “Hell Track.” They sponsor a major race and back Cru. He must compete against champion Bart Taylor (played by Olympic gymnast-turned-actor, Bart Thomas).
The film is 1980s corny and somewhat predictable, but is, at the same time, great fun. The tricks done by the BMX racers are, for the most part, real and impressive.
It does rely on the common Hollywood trope of having the villains be businessmen putting profits above all else. Jack Weston (Dirty Dancing) and Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian) play the bad guys.
Music plays a major role in making the film the fun romp that it is. Music accompanies bike riding, the high school dance fantasy sequence, and Cru courting Christian, played by Loughlin. The experience was like a flashback to MTV, when it played music.
In the Street
Prior to the screening of RAD, attendees watched real BMXers do their thing in the street. The 512 Wheelie Crew (“512” is the Austin area code) rode, jumped, and wheelied in front of the theater.
Allen has become a pop-culture star for BMX fans. The film initially did not do well at the box office. Over the couple of years after its release, however, it became the leading VHS rental, a cult favorite with bike riders.
Allen interacted with his fans, selling and autographing books and t-shirts. I didn’t get the appeal of the t-shirts until I saw the film. T-shirts play a critical role in the plot.
After the screening, Allen talked with Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League and fielded questions from the audience.
He began with a joke about his co-star, Lori Loughlin. He suggested that she would have been there, too, but that she couldn’t find an outfit to match her ankle bracelet. (Loughlin recently spent time in prison because of a college admissions scandal).
“I never made out with a felon before,” he quipped. He then backtracked a little saying what a lovely lady she was and how you immediately fall in love with her when you see her on the screen. He called kissing her a “showbiz perk.”
Allen then moved on to the film, giving much credit to director Hal Needham. Needham is known for getting the excitement of cars onto the screen (Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run) and being a stunt double and buddy of Burt Reynolds. Allen said he admired how Needham was able to bring that same excitement to BMX. I agree that the race scenes were amazing.
Allen also had praise for Jack Weston and Ray Walston, saying how lucky he felt to have worked with them.
An audience member asked how he got the part with no BMX experience.
Allen explained how Needham had seen him on Hill Street Blues. “He was just looking for an actor and he came up with me. I was 24, but I looked like a kid.”
Another fan inquired about Allen’s current BMX skills.
He replied, “I’m really good at falling down.”
You can watch a preview of the restored 4K version of RAD below. To get updates about future Fantastic Fest events and ways to view its films, check its website.