Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) lives in a trailer park in Texas with her teenage brother Binx (Christian Slater) and her mother (Mona Lee Futz), and Binx has recently gotten himself a brand new scooter which is his pride and joy. One day he takes Billie Jean out for a ride on it down the grocery store, but as they are zooming along a car full of local yahoos pulls up alongside and starts harrassing them. It gets worse: when they arrive at the store, the youths continue to try and wind Binx up and leer at his sister, but the pair manage to get away and down to the lake where they cool off with a swim. However, as they lounge on a raft, their tormentors reappear and begin fooling with the scooter - this will end in tears.
But it develops in a manner the characters would not have anticipated when Billie Jean turns into a heroine for her generation, or at least the generation living in Texas where she becomes a local celebrity. In much the same way that writer and director Matthew Robbins penned The Sugarland Express for Steven Spielberg, the plot for this goes the same way, with an innocent party branded an outlaw thereby inspiring a media circus in the process. Some have compared this to Bonnie and Clyde, and it did contain a similar appeal, only Billie Jean was far more upstanding and righteous (and surely so named thanks to the Michael Jackson hit that had been in the charts over the past couple of years, though they had little else in common).
Helen Slater was your golden girl here, a willowy blonde who draws on heretofore unsuspected reserves of grit and energy so she never seems over her head. She was of course just emerging from the publicity of another heroine role, that one a superheroine in the shape of Supergirl which may not have set the box office alight but did raise her profile. Alas, that wasn't enough to make this a hit either, but Robbins was on to something here as feisty, strong, female role models were in fashion in the eighties and Billie Jean suited that personality to a tee, so it was only a matter of time before her story would be embraced by those young enough to be impressed when they either rented this on home video or caught it on a late night TV showing.
What happens to place Billie Jean on the road to redemption is when the yahoos steal Binx's scooter and when he tries to get it back they smash it up, then smash him up too. The cops, led by Peter Coyote's Ringwald (there was an eighties teen movie crossover waiting to happen), are no help so she goes round to the ringleader's father's shop and demands he pay for the repairs at least, though what happens is that he lures her upstairs with the promise of money and then attempts to rape her. She escapes, Binx finds a gun in the cash register, accidentally shoots old man Pyatt (Richard Bradford, impeccably sleazy) and they go on the run with their friends Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and Putter (Yeardley Smith, a short while away from Lisa Simpson), since they are in possession of a car that will propel them across the state.
Pyatt may try to badmouth them, and petty crimes are blamed on them unfairly, but public opinion is on the runaways' side and Ringwald acknowledges he may have handled this situation badly so spends the rest of the movie trying to make up for it. If this has a rather empty, contrived tone about it with bits like Keith Gordon as a rich, willing hostage, then that appears to be partway intentional as Robbins observed the way media cause célèbres operate, building up the participants into celebrities when the fact that real people, who may not be handling this very well, are involved and the accompanying fame isn't doing them any good, really. So you could take the ruminations on the news in much the same way as Sugarland Express went, though this is rather milder in its final conclusions because it still especially likes the idea of Billie Jean as a fighter against injustice, a figure that many sections of society feel the need to champion: not so much in the wrong place at the wrong time, as in the right place at the right time. Oh, and no, they're not related. Music by Craig Safan.