Fantastic Fest 2021: 35th Anniversary Screening of RAD

By Mark Saldana

On the night before this year’s Fantastic Fest, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar hosted a special pre-fest event screening of Hal Needham’s 1986 film RAD. Prior to the film screening, Austin’s 512 Wheelie Crew, a local Austin group of BMX stunt riders put on an impressive display of their skills just outside of the theater. These RAD fanatics clearly and skillfully showed that BMX stunt riding is still an interest that is alive and active in the world, particularly in the Austin Metropolitan area.

Prior to this screening, I had never watched the movie in its entirety. As I sat in the theater, however, I realized that I had seen parts of this film previously in my childhood. I do vaguely recall that RAD was a regular staple on cable television. Maybe, I thought I was way too smart or too cool (not really) to watch such a corny and silly movie when I was a kid, but I can honestly say that once I watched the movie, I could definitely recognize some of its more iconic scenes.

One such scene involves a sort of seductive riding/dance sequence where the popular “80s song “Send Me An Angel,” by the group Real Life plays in the background. In said sequence protagonist Cru Jones (Bill Allen) and his soon-to-be love interest Christian Hollings (Lori Loughlin) take their BMX freestyle skills to the dance floor and show what they can do. The entire sequence is rather hilarious and ridiculous, but certainly very entertaining. And that pretty much describes the entire movie.

RAD obviously is inspired by the BMX freestyle craze during the ’80s and stuntman-turned-filmmaker Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) chose to present a timely movie that hoped to capitalize on that craze. Actor Bill Allen stars as Cru Jones, a small-town BMX racer who, despite his skills on a bicycle, spends his days helping support his family working a job in the local diner and also as a paperboy. Cru gets the opportunity of a lifetime when his town manages to score a major professional race named “Hell Track.” Though professional riders are competing in the race, the people in charge decide to hold qualifying trials to allow locals to participate. This is Cru’s chance to prove his skills to himself, his loving mother (Talia Shire) and the world.

Now I know this synopsis sounds rather goofy and predictable, but all of the ridiculousness that comes with this film is definitely part of its charm and makes it all the more endearing and entertaining. I had an absolute blast watching this silly movie and enjoyed seeing it with a crowd who obviously were also in on the humor of it all. Actor Bill Allen was in attendance and seems to have much love for the film and enjoyed sharing some storiers detailing his experiences while making the movie. He also had no problems making some jokes about Lori Loughlin’s recent legal troubles, but at the same time, had some very fond memories of working with her.

A special 4K restoration of the movie is now available for purchase for home entertainment via Vinegar Syndrome. The screening was a fun and enjoyable treat and kicked off this year’s Fantastic Fest with a great time at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

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