A time capsule on tires: ‘RAD’ stars backflip into their ‘80s BMX movie for digital release

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Bart Conner, left, and Bill Allen star in ‘Rad,’ which has been released on digital through Altavod. Courtesy photo.

Preston Barta // Features Editor

Let’s backpedal 34 years ago to a time when BMX racing and freestyling was fresh on the scene. While some were cutting a little rug to Duran Duran in the dance hall (absolutely no shame), just outside, you might have spotted a few individuals whipping their bikes around in a fashion that would see Tom Cruise jumping atop his sofa with glee. 

Released in 1986 and directed by Smokey and the Bandit’s Hal Needham, Rad featured a teenaged paperboy named Cru Jones (played by Bill Allen). The young BMXer must decide whether to qualify in a BMX race dubbed Helltrack (where the winner scores $100,000) or take his SAT exams for college. However, this movie isn’t The Perfect Score, so, in the words of Cru: “let’s walk this sucker.” (Possible translation: Let’s get rad on some bikes!) 

Elevated by a supporting cast that includes Lori Loughlin, Talia Shire, and Olympic gymnast Bart Conner, the film has since gone on to become a beloved cult classic, spawning fan clubs and repertory film screenings for decades. It not only supplies killer music “that you can dance to” and impressive stunts, but it captures the 1980s energy incredibly well.

So, if you haven’t had the opportunity to share Rad with your kids or grandkids (yikes), Utopia Distribution has made the film available on digital through Altavod. 

To celebrate its rebirth, Fresh Fiction spoke with stars Bill Allen and Bart Conner to discuss some favorite memories of making the film, the character dynamic, and what the future holds for them. 

After you’ve made your purchase on Altavod.com ($9.99 to rent or $19.86 to own – Oh, we see what you did there) and watched Rad, visit back here because the following conversation includes some *SPOILER* talk. 

Courtesy photo.

Preston Barta: How has your relationship changed with the film over the years –– sharing it with other people, going to all these anniversary events, and speaking with fans?

Bill Allen: “Well, I go to many of these BMX events and screenings and races. And mostly starting about 10 or 12 years ago, I started getting into the scene. So, I’m just always completely blown away by the culture and how I’m accepted into that culture. I was just given a hall pass to be a part of this brotherhood and sisterhood. In the ’80s, I wasn’t projecting decades down the line of how this would affect people. I’m sure Bart would agree that we knew it was going to have an impact. At the time, it was going to be a game-changer. And it took some time for the movie to find its audience, but here we are 35 years later still talking about it.”

One game-changing moment in the film is when Bart waves Cru on during the final race to have an actual showdown. That sportsmanship is so rare to see in movies.

Bill: “I agree. That’s my favorite part of the movie also. It changes Bart to my competition instead of my enemy, and he lifts me to that level to give me that opportunity.”

Bart Conner: “I didn’t come from the BMX or the acting world. I was an Olympic gymnast, and I had a reasonably high profile around that time. And I think the producers and director thought that maybe they could use my presence in the film. I always joke, I think I was sort of typecast as that arrogant blonde guy, like the dude in Karate Kid – the jerk everybody hates. Shortly after the Olympics, I said to Hal Needham, ‘Wait a minute. I can’t be the bad guy. I’m like an Olympic star.’ And he goes, ‘No, no, no.’ He said, ‘You’ll redeem yourself. I’ll send you a script, and you’ll see how it works out.’ So, you know, that’s kind of my take as I entered the project, and it’s been fascinating.”

That’s great. Where that relationship goes just leaves you on a note where you feel like there’s more story to tell. Over the years, what kind of sequels did you envision for yourselves over the years?

Bart: “I don’t think I could have imagined the legs that this movie would have. But a week doesn’t go by where somebody doesn’t refer to Rad or quote it. Let’s face it, the initial theatrical release was disappointing. Somehow, all those little kids, like you and your BMX bike, found this movie and made weekly trips to Blockbuster Video and started connecting with the storyline. Of course, it’s such a magical storyline about the local boy getting the support of his community and taking on the big, bad guy. I mean, who doesn’t want to root for the underdog? It’s so classic in that regard.”

“Over the years, the number of requests on social media for a rerelease, or what’s Rad 2 going to be like, and are you guys going to be involved, and who owns this movie, and will they ever bring it back out? I mean, Bill, I know you’re hit like dozens of times a day with these questions. And to me, that’s when I started thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t think I ever anticipated that the movie impacted people this profoundly.’ And that’s when I started to feel it. I don’t know if that matches your story or not, Bill.”

Bill: “Absolutely. And now it’s kind of been picked up by The Goldbergs [Season 3, episode 6], Tosh.0, Jimmy Fallon and American Dad. We were interviewed not too long ago by [Jorma Taccone], Andy Sandberg’s partner, who directed MacGruber [and stars in the Rad-inspired 2007 film Hot Rod]. It’s definitely part of the fabric of the culture.”

“That moment that you spoke of really changes the whole tone of the movie. We’re almost three minutes away from the end of the movie, where that very pivotal gesture occurs. I think most people want to see what happens after he hands that bike over the fence. I think that’s where a lot of folks’ imagination goes.”

I’m all about movies being 90 minutes long, but this is one rare instance where I felt like it could have just kept going. I would have been OK with another 10 or 20 minutes added onto it, if not more sequels. 

Bill: “We’ll see what happens and if there’s life in that. But that magical freeze-frame gives everybody the license to wonder what happens next. And now [with the new release of Rad], we may be given that chance to explore it.”

I sure hope so.

The now sold-out 4K disc of ‘Rad,’ a Vinegar Syndrome release.

Bill, I was listening to your audio commentary that’s on the new physical release of the film through Vinegar Syndrome. These moments, especially the “BMX boogie” sequence, I can’t help but wonder how you did it. And then, all of a sudden, you provide that insight and share how ridiculous these moments looked onset if you were to zoom out. What was the most ridiculous-looking system for achieving a shot that you were so surprised at how good it turned out?

Bill: “You know, there’s one thing about talking about it and planning it, but then on the day of you having to put it out there – man – and just be shameless about it. And that’s what makes a comic, for instance, truly brave— the day you actually have to bring up and come up with the goods. So, I think that’s all done in fun, and it played well. I mentioned the other day, one shot that they didn’t use is putting me on a huge spit, like a grill, for the shot where I’m doing a backflip. Thankfully, they never used it. They were experimenting on set, including the fact that they didn’t have Helltrack tested. That drop-in wall was not tested until the day of shooting. And the day of, nobody would go down the wall. So, there was a lot of risky business going on there that, thankfully, turned out well.”

Bart: “I think that’s one of the things that makes the movie. If the bike racing was mediocre and the stunts were just ho-hum, I don’t think we’d be talking today. The fact that it was Hal Needham and his guts, being an old-time Hollywood stuntman who would cut for stuff –– I mean, that over-rotated backflip onto the mattresses. They were just rolling on a take, not anticipating that. And, of course, that immediately makes it into the film because that’s incredible! It just shows you how hard this was. And how José Yáñez, who doubled [Bill] in that sequence. Sorry to burst the bubble on that, Bill, but –– Well, he was flying, and he over-torqued that thing and smacks hard. I was there that day, going, ‘Oh, man.’ So, if those things didn’t happen, and there are a couple of face plants in the racing at Helltrack that were legit. And, of course, immediately Hal, says, ‘Save that take because that’s in the movie!’”

Bill: “Of course. And there’s the scene where Eddie Fiola doubles for me in the trials and takes a pedal to the head. And he literally went out, he got a concussion on set. Then, they revived him and got him right back on the bike. So, some real blood was spilled.”

That was something that Robert Schwartzman (Utopia Distribution co-founder who’s responsible for reproducing Rad) and I were talking about when I interviewed him. We were both utterly amazed at the process for mapping out those race sequences. You have a story in place, but then you allow these organic moments and happy accidents to give the film more authenticity. What was it like for you guys to witness this and the calculation of it all?

Bart: “Well, I wouldn’t speak for Bill in this area, but we did have a nice Zoom meeting the other day. We commented that one of our favorite things to do every day was to watch the dailies. There’s a lot of magic that happens from the day they shoot a shot. I think I looped every line in a studio in Santa Monica months later. Didn’t you loop like every line for that movie in post-production, Bill?”

Bill: Not every line, but the big confrontational scene with [Talia Shire, who portrays Cru’s mother] after the qualifying race. You prepare, and you’re happy with how the scene went, and then they tell you, ‘Oh, by the way, we have to dub the whole thing.’ So that’s where the acting technique comes in, where you just have to match the performance you did six months before, with no preparation and no actor opposite you. So, that was challenging. I think it came out good.”

As actors, you can make touches of your own to the character. What was the proudest touch that you added to your characters?

Bill: “Not having [Cru get arrested as he did in the original script]. Hal was very encouraging of ad libbing. And I don’t know if people realize this, but the first movie to have a bloopers reel at the end was The Cannonball Run, right? That’s a Hal Needham movie. And now it’s a part of almost every movie. So, he encouraged that kind of looseness on the set. And you could take him aside and go, ‘Hey, let’s try this,’ or, ‘keep the camera rolling, let me try this.’ I wish I would have done more of that because he just presented a very loose and fun atmosphere. And that’s where the playfulness comes through.”

Bart: “One of the things that made it a little tricky for me is a few weeks before the movie started shooting up in Canada, I had been doing a gymnastic exhibition, and I totally blew out my right knee. Dislocated it from the knee down, anterior cruciate, cartilage, medial collateral, everything torn out. So I had major surgery. It was five days in the hospital, which was, back then, a long time for a knee reconstruction. I didn’t think I’d be able to make the movie. And Hal said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll give you some Percodan, and you’ll be fine.’ It sounds like a classic Hollywood stuntman move – just get some painkillers and go for it. So, I showed up on set, and I knew I would be really limited in what I could do.”

“If you saw me from the waist down in the shot, I was walking with two bent knees. I looked kind of like I was just goofing around, but that was the only way I avoided limping because one leg was severely bent in a plaster cast and the other leg was free. So, if I wanted to walk without a limp, I basically bend both knees at the same level as I was bent in the cast. And it looked pretty funny from the waist down.”

“But there is one scene, at the end, where we raise the bike. As I walk over to talk to Cru and his gang, you can tell that I’m pulling my right knee forward. You can see that it doesn’t move like a regular leg. And I remember thinking, ‘Well, I just got my butt kicked in a bike race. So, the fact that I’m sort of limping up to Cru Jones to congratulate him is legit, well, it works. I like to think that was my contribution as an actor – utilizing my limitations and working it into this script.”

But you must be kicking yourself a little bit that you didn’t get to do all those killer dance moves yourself during the dance sequence.

Bart: “All the upper body was me, man! I got to tell you, the whole Macarena thing, that was me. I’m proud of that, man. Yeah. My wife says, ‘Hey, is it dance night, Bart? And you know, sometimes I got to come up with the moves.”

I usually do the worm move that the Hayes brothers do.

Bart: “Oh yeah? Do you have the matching jumpsuit, though?”

Oh, I wish I did.

Bill: “I think that’s when those guys left acting. Right after that scene.”

Well, they did go on to write the Conjuring movies. So, they’re doing all right. But I have to say, I cracked up so hard, Bill, when you talked about that dance during your commentary. You mentioned when the Hayes brothers are dancing between that woman, and they’re doing that look-around. And then you said, ‘I don’t know. It looks like they want each other or something.’”

Bart: “[Laughs] Hey, but in fairness, when you were a 12-year-old boy watching that, you didn’t think that, did you?”

Oh, no. Not at all.

Bart: “Yeah. So, it takes on a new resonance years later, see? And the campiness makes it even more charming.”

Absolutely. Before we go, I would like to talk more about sharing this film with a new audience. We’ve commented a little bit about it, but what has the experience been like for you guys? It feels like it’s almost releasing for the first time over again because so many new people will be able to see it.

Bart: “Yeah, I’m curious to see what kind of traction it gets on this rerelease. I haven’t seen the new Blu-ray and 4K version yet, but I heard it’s amazing and the audio is great. Of course, the music track is epic, right? So, that certainly doesn’t hurt. I’ll be really interested to see what audience finds this. I don’t know how you’ve seen it, Bill, but mostly, the people that come up to me and want to talk about Rad are men between about, what, 38 and 50? This was their coming of age, the coolest movie they ever saw. And so I’ll be interested to see who connects with it on this rerelease. And obviously, there’s such nostalgia with the older audience, but I’ll be curious to see how the younger audience accepts it.”

My son is 14, and a few weeks ago, we watched the first Star Wars trilogy. And he was like, ‘This is so cool.’ And you think about how much filmmaking has changed over the years, but it’s still wonderful stuff even though technologically the way you make a movie with CGI now is so much different. But still, the story and acting mattered. And even the cheesiness of it still mattered.”

Bill: “Filmmaking really has changed so much, especially the way they cut the film. Editing has kind of taken over everything. And this movie was not affected by that at all. It’s very slow-paced. And so, I’m always shocked – and I hear it repeatedly – when kids really take to this movie. Like you said, it’s not made like modern films. It’s a little like watching a black-and-white movie. They have to kind of rejigger how they accept and watch it, and they do. And it cuts across age and sex and class genres. I’m constantly surprised that young people take to it like a duck to water. It still is cool.”

Rad will be available to purchase on Altavod.com through Friday, which includes the aforementioned exclusive Q&A with Jorma Taccone. From there, the film will expand on digital platforms. To learn more about Rad, read the Fresh Fiction’s interviews with filmmaker Robert Schwartzman and star Talia Shire.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.