Days of Thunder

Days of ThunderTop Gun Days of Thunder, from director Tony Scott, is a pretty decent action/drama movie about a plucky, hotshot fighter jet pilot NASCAR driver, played by Tom Cruise, and his bitter journey to exorcize a few personal demons in the cockpit on the race track while trying to balance a newfound romance with a pretty astrophysicist doctor.  Of course there’s a healthy dose of competition from his frenemy-with-a-clever-nickname Iceman Rowdy, and a healthy dose of high-speed flight race scenes, a crash or two, and enough close calls to have your nails digging into the seat.

Ok, so it’s not the most original movie out there, but Days of Thunder is a perfectly passable by-the-numbers late-80’s dude flick.  Tom Cruise plays our unfortunately-named protagonist Cole Trickle with all the vintage Tom Cruiseness you could hope for.  He knows he’s one of the biggest stars in the world, and from time to time the frame can barely contain the sheer amount of smugness on display.  Filling out the cast is a couple of acting giants–the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Trickle’s Luke Skywalker, Nicole Kidman as the no-way-she’s-old-enough-to-have-completed-med-school doctor, and even some B-listers like Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes, and Fred Thompson.  The movie is kind of a who’s who for movie stars in 1990, and for that reason alone, Days of Thunder is worth watching.

Days of Thunder: Cruise, Kidman

Now that's how you do product placement.

The basic idea here is as predictable as one would expect, and if you’re in doubt even for one moment how things will end up when the credits roll, it’s back to movie-watching-101 for you.  Our hero Trickle (it’s hard to even write that without laughing out loud) starts off as a disgraced race car driver eager to get back in the saddle, while his would-be mentor wants nothing to do with race car driving anymore.  But sure enough, Cruise is soon cruising (get it?  No?  You didn’t watch the trailer, did you?) around NASCAR tracks at 190 mph, dodging tires and sparring with rednecks for the elusive checkered flag.  His old mentor gets on his case for taking too many risks, and–you guessed it–Cruise’s newfound racing career is brought to a sudden halt–a trickle, if you will–when he crashes one too many times and ends up in the hospital along with racing nemesis Rowdy.

Will the two solve their differences?  Will the pretty doctor fall for the crazy scientologist?  Will Robert Duvall ever have a role as good as Tom Hagen?  It’s not rocket science, people.  It’s not even finger painting.  But it is actually a lot of fun.  Watching stock cars zoom around, crash into walls, and explode into tiny bits is a joy to behold, and it’s fun watching these A-Listers overact all the way to the bank.  Tony Scott’s fast-paced overblown directorial style is in full effect here, and as long as there’s a bucket of popcorn and 12-pack of Mello Yello handy there’s really nothing no way not to mindlessly enjoy Days of Thunder.


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The Taking of Pelham 123

the-taking-of-pelham-1-2-3Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day’s work for dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) into a face-off with the mastermind (John Travolta) behind the crime (IMDB).

Tony Scott’s attempt at remaking 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” surprisingly fails, when in reality with all this talent involved, it should be sizzling. Not that there’s much you can do to improve the other classic film, but giving it a modern spin with scenery chewing actors like Denzel Washington and John Travolta should be one of the most exciting films of the year. Not to be. Scott’s infamous MTV editing that overwhelmed “Man on Fire” and “Domino” is on display here once again, the dialogue is trashy, and the director also seems to have little faith in the suspense of the story. Truthfully there isn’t much, unlike the original, and so Scott splices some ridiculous crash sequences (which really feel quite stupid) in between Travolta’s rantings.

That brings up Travolta, a talented actor and sometimes entertaining villain (Face/Off, Broken Arrow) and other times not so much (Swordfish). But what seems a perfect vehicle for him, turns out to be one of his most ham-fisted performances in quite some time. His constantly whiny bad guy, Ryder, seems to lack any shred of intelligence, and his dialogue in this thing is often unbelievably campy. While Denzel Washington has a settled in, humbled performance that doesn’t require much, Travolta is rather hilarious and doesn’t play well in generating any tense moments.

This new “Pelham” is not the wild ride and sparring match-up it should have been. I typically like Tony Scott’s work (True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Spy Game) and even much of his maligned work (Man on Fire, Domino, Deja Vu). But “Pelham 123” is a ludicrous bore that has none of the suspense of the original, and wants to be a popcorn actioner when it should be an intense thriller. A major disappointment. I encourage anyone interested in this film to check out the original film first.

-MJV & the Movies

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