Thursday, April 17, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... DAYS OF THUNDER

Only now does it occur to me...  that following in the footsteps of incredibly "whacky" credit pairings like George A. Romero & Menahem Golan and Jesse Ventura & Andre Gregory that the mind-blowing, onscreen juxtaposition of Robert Towne and Tom Cruise is truly one for the record books.

You will note:  one of these men is the screenwriter of CHINATOWN and THE LAST DETAIL.  The other one is Tom Cruise.  Extra bonus:  the "76" car up there says "Die Hard" on the side of it.  Fine by me.

DAYS OF THUNDER subscribes to the genre of movie (TOP GUN, COCKTAIL, RISKY BUSINESS, THE COLOR OF MONEY) where Tom Cruise engages in a flashy and specialized activity (jet-flyin', cocktail-makin', pimpin', pool-hustlin'), works with a mentor (Tom Skerrit, Bryan Brown, Joe Pantoliano?-admittedly a stretch, Paul Newman) gets the girl (Kelly McGillis, Kelly Lynch, Rebecca De Mornay, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio), loses the girl, gets the girl back again, and triumphs over all. To fill in the ingredients of DAYS OF THUNDER, we have:  Nascar-racin', Robert Duvall, and Nicole Kidman.

It's designed as a high-octane Tony Scott thrill ride where we cheer on our bad-boy hero who dips his hat low over his eyes, cause he's cool like that and quite the bad boy:

but upon watching it today, you can't help but root for Michael Rooker the whole time.  Michael Rooker (character-actor extraordinaire and veteran of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, THE WALKING DEAD, SLITHER, JFK, CLIFFHANGER, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, RENT-A-COP, and THE DARK HALF)

plays a rival driver who eventually becomes a sidekick to Cruise, but his natural pathos and inspired acting choices contrast so severely with Cruise's tiny-whiny-bad-boy demeanor that you have no choice but to think of him as the true protagonist of the film.  Also, Rooker's character name is "Rowdy Burns" and for the record, I have never disliked anyone named Rowdy.

At one point, after they're both  injured in a wreck, Rooker and Cruise have an epic wheelchair race (to their orderlies' dismay) that just might be the highlight of the film.

Furthermore, Rooker's wife is played by Junta Juleil favorite Caroline Williams (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, ALAMO BAY, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, LEPRECHAUN 3) who still remains one of Texas' best exports.

Seen here a little more morose than usual.

In closing, I will rattle off three disjointed observations:

#1.  I love it when Randy Quaid says that we look like monkeys fucking a football.

#2.  "Superflo" is only one letter away from "Superflu."

Also, there is so much "1990" happening in that picture, that I feel as if staring at it and meditating (á la SOMEWHERE IN TIME) could in fact transport you back to 1990.

#3.  Nicole Kidman plays an Australian medical doctor whom Tom Cruise mistakes for a stripper.  Later, Tom tries to buy Nicole's love (as in real life) by sending her a shitload of balloons, and– most importantly– a stuffed kangaroo dressed in a doctor costume, you know, because she's a doctor from Australia.

And the best part is that...  it works!  Score one for 'Merica.


Cannon said...

Oh, how I love this movie. I love the cinematographically underexposed dusky hues of pinks and golds which in turn really make all those NASCAR event neons pop. It really is a quintessential 'cusp-of-the-90s' cinematic filter where everything is reimagined in a constant state of "magic hour", as if the movie began as a mere Daytona sponsoring Pepsi commercial with dreams of something grander, of spreading its arms to a feature length running time so as to recount an epic hero’s journey through the gauntlet of high-fiving, macho-melodramatic, American motorsports. RIP Tony Scott.

A few additional observations to add:

4. The scene where Cruise, using sugar packets and Nicole Kidman’s leg, seizes a post-coital interlude to explain to audiences the secret racing technique of drafting, which, wouldn’t ya know it, later becomes the very move that saves the day. Mixing pillow talk with foreshadowing? Genius.

5. The long-term, near-subliminal, multi-movie effort to indoctrinate Western culture with the axiom that Tom Cruise rides motorcycles. Everywhere. Always.

6. Cary Elwes

7. Hans Zimmer’s score, back when Hans Zimmer music was still actually fun. Back when pop-German keyboarding and Gillette razor electric guitar riffs were the feel-good soundtrack of America.

8. The final shot where, high on victory, Robert Duvall races Tom Cruise on foot; basically, any moment in cinema where Duvall runs like a giddy 10-yearold.

Anonymous said...

You said this one would be back, and it definitely did not disappoint! Good stuff as always, I'm forever ready for some sweet 1990 action. It's probably the most in-between-decades of all in-between-decades, and so great in film because of the incredible possibilities that it's in-between-ness can go so very right or so very wrong, if any of that makes sense! Nothing really to add after yours and the commenter above's excellent comments, so thanks and carry on!

Sean Gill said...

Excellent additions, my friend! The post-coital sugar packeting scene is indeed a jaw-dropper, and Zimmer's score is absolutely the generic soundtrack to 'Merica (and appropriately enough sort of feels like something produced by Giorgio Moroder). Also, somewhere, right now, as we speak... Tom Cruise is riding a motorcycle.

Glad ya enjoyed! I agree that 1990 was a fabulous year of possibility, though I've often theorized that the 1980s continued all the way until 1994 (to coincide with the dissolution of Cannon Films).