From Disney’s Herbie the Love Bug to John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine,vehicles with “minds of their” own have been a staple of Hollywood films – comedy or horror it doesn’t matter – but in 1985 we were treated to a movie that was inspired by the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk which featured child star Peter Billingsley.
Directed by Hoite C. Caston, this film tells the story of a dirt bike-obsessed boy named Jack Simmons (Peter Billingsley) who when his widowed mother (Anne Bloom) gives him money to buy groceries, but instead of doing what he’s told, the little shit uses the money to buy a Yamaha YZ-80 two-stroke racing motorcycle from local bully Max (Gavin Allen), only to discover that it is a magical sentient dirt bike that can do incredible things. Basically, what we have here is the typical kid wish-fulfillment story, one that you’d have found in many of the Disney films throughout the 1970s, in fact, this entry even has an evil banker as the antagonist which was almost a requirement for these types of films. In this movie, the villainous banker is slimy Mr. Hodgkins (Stuart Pankin) who is trying to demolish local restaurant called The Doghouse, which is owned by Jack’s little league coach Mike (Patrick Collins), all because Hodgkins wants to build his new super bank on that location.
Legal Note: This movie takes place in Texas and foreclosures in Texas cannot begin until after the loan payment is delinquent for 120 days, and then it’s another six months to complete the foreclosure process, but in this movie, not only is this accelerated we don’t even know if Mike actually missed a payment, yet somehow the bank’s computer just “selected” his restaurant for foreclosure.
What The Dirt Bike Kid has going for it is its nostalgia factor as the special effects to bring the bike to life were certainly not going to win any awards and certainly not going to win over modern viewers, so one’s enjoyment will rely heavily on whether or not you saw this film when you were a kid, because through adult eyes you may find Jack to be more of an obnoxious little prick, one who deserves a spanking rather than a magical bike that can fight off a biker gang and fly across the cityscape. I also don’t think younger audiences today will give a crap about the budding romance between Mike and Hodgkin’s long-suffering assistant Mazie Clavell (Sage Parker), what they’d want to see is more magic bike action which, sadly, there really isn’t much to be found in this movie and what we do get is terribly realized.
• The glasses that Billingsley wears in this film are the same ones he wore as Ralphie in A Christmas Story, too bad they didn’t try and use this movie to create a Ralphie Cinematic Universe.
• Instead of being obsessed with a Red Ryder BB Gun this time out it’s dirt bike, so it’s nice to see that Peter Billingsley’s fixations are progressing nicely.
• When Jack is approached by some old dude at the motocross race and is told “That bike is special,” all I could think of was “Stranger Danger!”
• As to be expected, anytime we see the bike do any kind of stunt driving, or any real kind of riding for that matter, Jack increases his body mass to adult stuntman size.
• As was the case of the beans in Jack and the Beanstalk the dirt bike is magical, unfortunately, it doesn’t take him anywhere as interesting as a castle in the clouds and he never encounters a giant.
• The dirt bike is handcuffed, arrested and put in a jail cell, with a $100 bail bond set, and I must say, Texas laws are damn strange as it’s usually the driver who is arrested, not his vehicle.
• A crooked businessman’s real estate deal being thwarted by a sentient vehicle is pretty much the plot of Herbie Rides Again, but then again, this movie also makes the villain a sexual predator so that’s a bit different.
All the characters in the film are one-dimensional and fail to elicit much in the way of sympathy or interest from the audience and most kids would find their attention drifting during any of this so-called drama. Jack Simmons, the protagonist, is a bland and forgettable character and his interactions with other characters felt forced and contrived, similarly, the villainous land developer, played by Stuart Pankin, is little more than a caricature of a greedy businessman with no real depth or nuance to his character. His teaming up with a local motorcycle gang is the only really interesting thing he accomplishes.
The film’s special effects, even for the time, are far from impressive and have not aged well and at most come across as either quaint, if you are being kind, or pretty damn cheesy and outdated if one were being perfectly honest. Scenes featuring the dirt bike in action are particularly underwhelming, with poor green screen effects and unrealistic stunt work. That all said, despite being over 30 years old, it does have some limited appeal, with some humour that could rise a chuckle or two. The story is simple yet effective, with a clear message about the importance of standing up for what you believe in and fighting against injustice. Peter Billingsley did his best to capture the wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm of a young boy who discovers a new passion but the script does him no favours as he’s often upstaged by his horny best friend Bo (Chad Sheets) or that magical dirt bike.
Overall, The Dirt Bike Kid is a modestly entertaining movie that adults looking for a nostalgic trip may enjoy, and while this is no classic tale of good versus evil it does have a healthy dose of humour, and some heart thrown in for good measure. If you’re looking for a fun and adventurous movie to watch with the whole family, The Dirt Bike Kid may be worth checking out, but only if your tolerance for 1980s cheese is fairly high.
The Dirt Bike Kid (1985)
Movie Rank - 6/10
With The Dirt Bike Kid director Hoite C. Caston created a fun and enjoyable film that is a classic example of 80s family cinema, one that still holds up well if you have your nostalgia glasses firmly in place.