BMX Bandits: 'That's life, pal'

BMX Bandits: 'That's life, pal'
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A clip from the cult classic BMX Bandits. It features a 15 year-old Nicole Kidman in one of her first major screen roles. The chase continues, this time on foot and BMX bike, with the goons in pursuit of Judy (Nicole Kidman), Goose (James Lugton) and PJ (Angelo D’Angelo). The friends skillfully run rings around Whitey (David Argue) and Moustache (John Ley) as they navigate a suburban shopping centre (shot at Warringah Mall on Sydney's Northern Beaches) complete with water fountain, a pile of mattresses, an electrician on a ladder, bookshop display, busy pizza restaurant and an escalator. Summary by Tammy Burnstock.

This is one of many extended comic chase sequences which make up the body of the film. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith noted on a blog that this sequence has been replicated in a later Hong Kong film, but prefers to ‘think of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery’. He also comments, ‘It did not hurt to have future Academy Award winner John Seale behind the camera either’.

Earning more than 40 feature film cinematography credits across four decades, John Seale’s work includes The English Patient (1996), for which he won an Oscar, with additional Oscar nominations for Witness (1985), Rain Man (1988) and Cold Mountain (2003). Seale was inducted into the Australian Cinematographers’ Society Hall of Fame in 1997, awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2002 and received the International Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 2011.

Trenchard-Smith also notes on the blog that the young child who sees the bikes on the escalator ('BMX wow!’) is his son, who retains his enthusiasm for bikes nearly 30 years later.

BMX Bandits synopsis

Teenage BMX bike riders Goose (James Lugton) and PJ (Angelo D’Angelo) become friends with Judy (Nicole Kidman), who is working the summer at a supermarket, when their bikes are destroyed by runaway shopping trolleys. Judy is fired and, with time on their hands and in dire need of money, the three friends decide to go fishing. Discovering a sunken treasure of illegal police-wavelength walkie-talkies gives the friends a money-making idea. It also sets them on a collision course with some incompetent but persistent bank-robber goons and an equally ineffectual police force.

BMX Bandits curator's notes

BMX Bandits is a cult classic. Starring a 15-year-old Nicole Kidman in one of her first major roles, it was shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Seale and directed by one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite directors, Brian Trenchard-Smith.

Trenchard-Smith had earlier collaborated with Seale on The Man from Hong Kong (1975), and also directed Turkey Shoot (1982) and Dead-end Drive-in (1986). BMX Bandits was released internationally in cinemas and still has a following today. It was also the inspiration for a Scottish pop group of the same name.

Capitalising on the BMX bike craze of the 1980s, the film tells a simplistic story of adventurous teenage goodies versus bumbling adult baddies. The thinly-plotted premise provides an opportunity to showcase plenty of bike stunts amidst extended comic and cartoon-like chase sequences around Sydney. These include a famous scene shot with BMX bikes inside the Manly Waterworks.

Seale’s inventive and dynamic camerawork helps to sustain long action-chase sequences involving bikes and, at various times, trucks, cars, boats, hapless goons on foot and cream pies. The gun-toting goons and bank-robbing action sequences would push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in a children’s movie today, but were mild by the standards of many films made in the same decade.

BMX Bandits was released in Australian cinemas on 22 December 1983. It was nominated for four AFI Awards in 1984: Best Supporting Actor (David Argue), Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Edgeworth), Editing (Alan Lake) and Sound (Andrew Steuart, John Patterson, Robin Judge, Phil Judd and Gethin Creagh).

Notes by Tammy Burnstock.

Production company:
Nilsen Premiere
Paul F Davies, Tom Broadbridge
Associate producer:
Brian D Rurges
Brian Trenchard-Smith
Patrick Edgeworth
Based on a screenplay by:
Russell Hagg
Original music:
Frank Strangio, Colin Stead
Anthony Alafaci, David Argue, Bill Brady, Peter Browne, Angelo D'Angelo, Nicole Kidman, John Ley, James Lugton, Bryan Marshall, Linda Newton