Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Inside the Skeleton's Closet: Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits (1983)

I always thought I had already seen Nicole Kidman's most embarrassing role, as Dr Chase Meridian, the stunningly unprofessional psychologist from Batman Forever who spends most of her screen time throwing herself at Val Kilmer in a rubber suit. Thankfully though, Inside the Skeleton's Closet has shown me that there's always a more embarrassing role out there when you're starting out in the world of acting. In 1983 in Kidman's native Australia, a film was made to timely capitalise on the BMX craze of the mid 1970s: BMX Bandits. 16 year old Nicole Kidman displayed her dedication to her craft right from the first film in her career by specifically learning to ride a BMX bicycle for this film. Sadly, that effort was slightly wasted as most of 'her' cycling was actually done by a stunt person after she got injured, but it's good to know that even then, Kidman's ambition was as big as her hair:

Unable to know the future star it had on its hands, BMX Bandits is more concerned with free-spirited bike riders PJ and Goose, two young men who banter constantly with all the wit and chemistry of Eurovision hosts. Goose (the blonde one) at least has a degree of personality, if you have a very loose definition of the word along the lines of "is interested in things other than BMX". He's a bit morbid and likes scary films. PJ...PJ likes BMX. He would like a BMX track, if only they could get the money. They encounter Kidman (Judy/"Puffball", it's apparently BMX slang and apparently BMX has slang) working at a supermarket so she can get money for-what else-her own BMX. She ends up joining their crew's money making schemes after a trolley-related mishap ends with her getting fired and their bikes getting broken.

Now there are two ways that a film like this can go. Either they must win the big race against the jerk BMX rider to win the prize money, or else they run afoul of hilariously incompetent criminals. Since the closest thing to a rival bike rider in this film is a rotund 13 year old who the Bandits steal ice cream from and throw back at him to trip on (our heroes), this film chooses the latter plot. There is a gang of criminals who are shown successfully robbing a bank, clad in pig and wolf masks. They make plans to rob another, a box of walkie talkies being the key component in their scheme to knock off a payroll delivery and make a 1/4 million each (whose payroll is this, Rupert Murdoch's?) but tragically they are ignorant to the fact that they are criminals in a children's movie, and so doomed to bumbling failure. Though they are successfully able to engineer a bank heist, when the BMX Bandits end up with their box of walkie talkies, the two criminals sent to take care of them (IMDB informs me these three dimensional characters are named Whitey and Moustache) become unable to catch children on bikes in their car and are regularly bested physically by an 80 pound Nicole Kidman. Hell the kids are making money selling the walkie talkies they stole to other children, so they're better criminals than these bank robbers. They are sub-Wet Bandit standard.

Somehow this film manages to feature not nearly enough BMX and far too much BMX.  For reasons unknown, a good 10 minutes of this 90 minute film take place in a graveyard as the BMX Bandits skulk around trying to avoid Whitey and Moustache (possible Hall and Oates tribute act?). It is at this point that Nicole Kidman injured herself for real, filming a scene where she falls into an open grave. Goose falls in after her and plants the most awkward kiss I have ever seen in a film on her. And I've seen Bill Murray kiss. He laments that she must like PJ more since he's so handsome. Thankfully after this scene ends none of this is ever mentioned again. Kidman's reaction pretty much says it all for me:

Now while PJ and Goose were briefly shown biking around at the beginning-with whoosh noises to let you know that their bikes are going fast and that they are cool bikes-and during the eternal graveyard scene I began to be worried that there was some false advertising at play and there may hardly any BMX at all, things really kick up a gear now. Kidman uses her ill-gotten walkie talkie money to buy a new bike and there is a montage of her  an obviously male stuntman doing tricks on it, all to the tune of a strange song about BOYS and how the singer failed to notice going through puberty.

Even though she is just as good at cycling as the titular bandits, she is frequently treated as the damsel in distress. At one point, the two criminals catch up to her. The walkie talkies broadcast to everyone on the same wavelength, so she turns one on as the criminals are threatening her (why yes there is a vague rape threat in this children's movie, thank you for asking) hoping that her friend will hear it. Hearing cries for help has nothing to do with BMX though, so they are too distracted to notice it. Now I'm trying not to go too deep into details here, but this next scene is so bonkers I have to break it down a little. We cut to a building site, The foreman shoos his dog away from his beloved car, which is in the middle of the site for some reason. Over his radio, he tells a man working a crane to move some debris, but not to drop it until he says "now". Instead, the man hears the conversation between the Kidman and the criminals, who want to know where she's hidden their stuff NOW. So he drops the stuff on the car, it gets trashed, bwamp bwamp, right? Close, but not quite. He drops the debris on the car, which promptly EXPLODES. Like, a Michael Bay level explosion.

This film has a budget of $1 million, that explosion looks like 3/4s of it at least. The immediately do basically the exact same gag, except at a different site when a guy TEARS A BUILDING DOWN. These throwaway gags have nothing to do with the movie! Why is this happening?

This brings us into the "far too much BMX" portion of the film, as PJ and Goose cycle in to rescue Kidman on their bikes, and they all bike off to escape the criminals, who are in pursuit in their car. This is the next 20 minutes. They go from the docks, to the waterpark (where they go down a slide with their bikes!), to the mall, to an abandoned warehouse-they're a lava level away from being in Super Nintendo game. It gets a little repetitive and in the end they just...get away. I don't want to tell the director of BMX Bandits how to do his job but I feel like he could have cut everything after the waterpark.

The film ends with the bandits attempting to collect the reward for bringing in the criminals. Their plan is to give the criminals an empty box claiming the walkie talkies are inside while having kids hiding all around the area track where they go and report back on the walkie talkies. This plan relies on grown men not knowing that a box filled with walkie talkies does not feel like it is empty, but they are criminals in children's film so it works perfectly. Apart from Nicole Kidman getting kidnapped. Twice. Whatever. They catch the criminals, the criminals get covered in goo, they get the BMX track, go figure. They would have been able to take care of those criminals much faster if only they had an Angel Summoner. At least we get an 80s soundtrack song to play us out, albeit one filtered by being Australian and being about BMX.

With no Neighbours or Home and Away for her to get her acting feet wet in, this was the kind of thing Nicole Kidman had. That same year she featured in a film called Bush Christmas which was a flop even in Australian dollars, and starred in a few more Aussie films before she found stardom in Days of Thunder, met Tom Cruise and left Australia, never to return. Until Australia the film of course, which was terrible. You should have stayed away Nicole! As for the other BMX Bandits...well, they've both been on Home and Away. That's something, right? Right Nicole?

Maybe not.


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