If Reckless, the Romeo and Juliet-style vehicle for Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah contains the most overtly sexual high school dance sequence in all 1980s teen films (with the pair ogling each other to the sound of Romeo Void’s Never Say Never featuring the all too subtle lyric, “I Might Like You Better if We Slept Together”), then Hal Needham’s Rad must contain the least overtly sexual.
In a sequence that would have done Crash-era David Cronenberg proud, Needham has his two leads, Cru and Christian (Bill Allen and Lori Loughlin) posing and balancing themselves on BMX bikes, doing wheelies and other fancy cycling tricks. Cru and Christian have hardly shared a word together by this point in the film, and Needham eschews this minimum chemistry requirement in favor of some quite audacious stuntwork for the poorly wigged stuntmen standing in for Allen and Loughlin, all to the tune of Real Life’s antiseptic Send Me an Angel. Sure, you can see Allen and Loughlin performing in close-ups, trying to make it look like they are standing on their bikes while some inanimate being is rotating the wheels, but Needham’s carefree attitude towards filmmaking shines through, never once worrying about editing coherence or properly setting up scenes.
Needham, the longtime stuntman who found himself living in Burt Reynolds’ poolhouse in the mid-1970s, suddenly promoted to director (for the Reynolds vehicle Hooper), but without ever finding his own place to live, was not one to care about standard storytelling requirements, made perfectly obvious by his Cannonball Run-Megaforce-Cannonball Run II period. In Needham’s world, a gag need not make any sense as long as there is a moderately clear punchline, or at least the implication of said punchline. Rad fits so snugly into Needham’s oeuvre that it’s never clear whether the movie is an excuse for the 8 minute BMX montage that opens the film (and another 4 minute montage that arrives five minutes later), or he’s just really laid back about setting up the slobs vs. snobs beats in this, his 30 year-old-teenagers in high school magnum opus.
The prom scene is central to Rad in many ways, but most importantly, it gives us the idea that Needham believes he can rely on other people’s clichés to fill out his scenes. Though we’ve had only a hint of it earlier, whatever old codger Ray Walston’s motivation is for trying to prevent Cru from entering the Helltrack race that’s supposedly going to bring lots of money to the film’s small town USA setting (though it’s not apparent how), is totally unclear. And why Christian finds herself at the dance at all, supposedly she’s fighting with the Aryan villain Bart Taylor (obviously inspired by the more evocative performance by William Zabka as the antagonist in The Karate Kid, made two years before Rad), makes no sense to us, let alone why after their successful performance, Cru and Christian find themselves surrounded by adoring fans, unable to get to each other, frustrating Cru until he rides off into the night off to find a another false crisis… Or how despite not knowing each other, they were perfectly in rhythm during their performance. Or why, in the final race of the film, there’s a racer wearing pink pants…
Not that any of it really matters, as the point of the film is obviously exploiting a fad (though Rad was made three years after Nicole Kidman’s BMX Bandits), which was a standard way of pandering to teens in the 1980s, whether it be via Skiing (Hot Dog: The Movie), breakdancing (Breakin’), or rap (Krush Groove, Rappin’), and producer Jack Schwartzman (father of Jason and husband to Talia Shire, which is why she plays Cru’s mom in Rad) was more interested in ramping up as much product placement as he could squeeze into scenes. [“Bill, can you move the box of Kix more to the center of frame so it’s clear what cereal you’re so obviously enjoying?”]
Obviously, Schwartzman didn’t concern himself with some of the subtext in scenes, such as watching co-villain Jack Weston salivating over Bart Taylor at the prom like a NAMBLA member waiting to accidentally lose his pants (“is there anything that kid can’t do?” “And we have him.”), or that the androgynous girlfriend of Cru’s friend is a dead ringer for Tatum O’Neal circa Little Darlings, or that despite this being a “big race” movie, all building to the final moments of suspense, the goal of all the participants seems to be to successfully sell out to a sponsor. That last detail is the most important though; there’s never been a more appropriate analogy for what Rad stands for as a movie.