The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

legend of billie jean 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes media sensation.

Billie Jean (Helen Slater) is a teen living in a small Texas town who one day decides to take a ride with her brother Binx (Christina Slater) on his motor scooter to a lake for a swim. Along the way they come into contact with some red neck boys who harass the two and damage the scooter. The police do nothing about it, so Billie Jean decides to approach Pyatt (Richard Bradford) who runs a convenience store and is the father to one of the boys. When she asks him for the money that it will cost to repair it he attempts to sexually assault her and Binx ends up shooting the man in the shoulder. This causes the two to go on the run and creates a statewide car chase, which makes Billie Jean a media hero to thousands of teens nationwide.

The movie is a real mixed bag with strong shifts in tone and no clear point-of-view. It starts out as a rather boring, run-of-the-mill teen bullying flick only to turn into a whimsical tale as the teens go out on the road and have one quirky adventure after another. It’s similar to Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express as both lead characters are females and go on the run from the law in Texas while become inadvertent media darlings in the process. Spielberg’s movie is the better film, but this one delves more into the media angle and could’ve made some strong statements, but unfortunately pulls back and keeps things on too much of a lighthearted, innocuous level instead.

Slater is fantastic in the lead and it’s great seeing the boyish Slater in his film debut. I felt though that Martha Gehman and Yeardley Smith as two teen gals who tag along with the other two on their adventure added nothing and should’ve been cut out completely.

Bradford makes for a pretty good heavy, but I had major issues with Peter Coyote as the sheriff. For one thing when Billie Jean reports that her brother’s bike has been stolen he does not immediately pursue the case, but instead decides to ‘wait on it for a few days’, which seemed like he was not doing the job that the tax payers put him into position to do. Then when the chase expands across the rest of the state he somehow gets in charge of tracking her down, which is ridiculous. Once she crosses over the county line, or gets outside of his jurisdiction then it is up to the authorities from that region to handle it, or the state highway patrol and certainly not some two-bit sheriff from a no-name, hick town.

The scene where Billie Jean saves a boy from his abusive father while hundreds of teens look on is great, but everything else is so-so. The film would’ve worked better had it taken a consistent satirical tone from the beginning and not have been so compelled to conform itself to the more simplistic sensibilities of its targeted teen audience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Matthew Robbins

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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