Josh Brolin’s leading man debut is a hard-to-find gem from the era that fashion forgot.
There’s always at least a couple of films in an actor’s resume which makes them grimace whenever they’re brought up. For the immensely talented Hollywood A-lister Josh Brolin that film is this 1986 skating extravaganza.
On a number of occasions over the years, the actor has dismissed his performance in the film. His first lead role a year after making his screen debut on that quest to find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure in The Goonies, it’s fair to say Brolin lacked that now commanding screen presence of his as a relative newbie in the industry. The film itself however is an utter blast. Ostensibly a Romeo and Juliet-type tale of two warring ‘tribes’ of skaters played out against the backdrop of a neon-heavy eighties Los Angeles setting – populated with an overabundance of pink bikinis and garish-looking beetle convertibles – Thrashin’ is a joy from start to finish.
Brolin plays Corey Webster, a talented and popular skater from the Valley who falls for a girl who happens to be the sister of Hook, fearsome leader of the notorious Venice Beach-based, denim and leather-clad skate gang, The Daggers (aesthetic-wise, think teenage version of The Rogues from the 1979 cult classic The Warriors). This emotional tug of war accumulates in a gripping and atmospheric ‘skate joust’ between Corey and Hook, as they go man-to-man in a dark, flare-lit concrete battle ground – a place where half the film’s budget appears to have been blown on hiring smoke machines. The denouement is in the form of a seven-minute downhill skating race, where the now injured Corey has to make that final stand and win back the girl he loves.
Like Breakin’ – aka Breakdance: The Movie – Thrashin’ is a film very much of it’s time, cashing in on the latest craze of that era. And similarly to that 1984 breakdancing-themed comedy drama, the film’s plot is secondary to the real star of the show – the impressively staged and imaginatively shot skateboarding sequences, some of which feature a barely-in-his-teens future skate icon Tony Hawk pulling off a multitude of gravity-defying moves. Hook (played by Weird Science’s Robert Rusler) even offers the ultimate insult to group of street body-poppers when he proclaims that “breakin’ is a memory”. It’s hard to disagree with him. Kids in the US must have lapped this film up when it was first released, doing for skateboard sales what Top Gun would later do for Ray-Bans. The filmmakers also display a canny knack of having their fingers on the pop culture pulse of that period by hiring an extremely young-looking Red Hot Chili Peppers to perform in a nightclub scene.
It’s films like Thrashin’ – and not forgetting the 1989 Christian Slater skater epic Gleaming the Cube – and documentaries such as Dogtown and Z-Boys which have provided an fascinating insight into the birth and development of this once niche sporting hobby, which now has a significant place in modern culture. Brolin has zero to be ashamed of.