Action Heroes on Bikes

Don’t ask why, but I watched King Kong last weekend — the 1976 remake that most people would rather forget.

King Kong 1976 movie posterIn addition to being a bad movie, it was an interesting period piece from the 1970s. An evil oil company, Petrox, is personified by Fred Wilson, played by Charles Grodin. Jessica Lange plays Dwan, a helpless, passive, airheaded, damsel in distress. I really don’t know what Kong saw in her, but the character was pretty much par for the course for women’s roles in big-budget action movies of the time…and of previous times…and the times that followed — until Ellen Ripley came along, thank God.

What I found interesting was that the hero of the film was Jeff Bridges‘ character, Jack Prescott, a primate paleontologist who also happens to be an archetypal 70’s hippie environmentalist. Again: He’s the hero.

This was in 1976, with the 1973 oil crisis and the 1973-1974 stock market crash both in recent memory. Another factor was the recent success of Jaws.

I can just imagine a movie studio executive with a cigar in one corner of his mouth and screaming out the other corner, Give me a script right now, dammit, with a huge dangerous animal, some stock characters and no goddamn plot. Got it? Good guys. Bad Guys. A dame to look at, and a big ass animal! I don’t care what it is — chipmunk, a frog, or a fluffy kitten — as long as it’s huge and has sharp teeth! You’ve got 15 minutes!

And 15 minutes later, a script came back with this bit of dialogue:

Jack Prescott: Even an environmental rapist like you wouldn’t be asshole enough to destroy a unique new species of animal.

Fred Wilson: Bet me.


But what caught my attention was this 20-second sequence:

Nice dismount, Jack.

The movie doesn’t show how Jack Prescott acquires the bike. It’s set in New York City, so presumably he stole it.

King Kong Screenshot - Jeff Bridges on a Bike

Later in the movie, Kong battles helicopters from atop the World Trade Center and causes some military casualties. In hindsight — and in this context — it’s pretty interesting that Jack is definitely not “supporting the troops.” He cheers for the big gorilla.

This could have been an entire new genre. It’s hard to think of another big-budget action movie where the hero rides to the rescue on a bicycle. Can you?

Well, Premium Rush will change that — and from the looks of the trailer, it won’t be a change for the better.

Aside from some nice trick riding, this film looks like it’ll be awful for the image of urban cyclist — reinforcing the stereotype of the high-adrenalin scofflaw bike messenger who takes out his aggression on taxis. Like King Kong, this movie is set in New York City. Also like King Kong the protagonist has a love interest who he needs to protect — but he protects her with his awesome bike messenger skills.

And this love interest, well they really made and effort to show us the tattoo on her shoulder. Look, moviegoing twentysomething demographic! These are cool people! Don’t you want to get on a fixie and ride into the path of a taxi too!




With their monster movie reboot, the hack screenwriters of the mid-70’s came up with more topical political context in 15 minutes than there appears will be in Premium Rush. I’m expecting a step backwards for the image of cycling. Let’s hope it bombs at the box office.

Really, for an action hero on a bicycle, nobody’s ever topped BMX Bandit. I’d pay to see a full-length movie based on these characters:

Have I missed any movies with a positive portrayal of a cyclist as an action hero? Better yet, where there was any social context to the hero’s use of a bike? Let me know.

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