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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Days of Thunder (review)

Top Car

“There’s nothing stock about a stock car”– Robert Duvall, wise old dude who builds stock cars, and talks to them, too

Cars. Cars cars cars cars. Vroom! Vroom vroom vroom! Crash! Tom and Nicole have sex! Cars cars vroom vroom! Crash! Vroom!

There. You’ve just seen Days of Thunder. Or, if that’s not enough for you, think about Top Gun, and substitute stock cars for fighter jets and there you go.

“There’s nothing I can’t do with a race car!” — Tom Cruise, who races stock cars despite the fact he’s from California

A Jerry Bruckheimer Production. Directed by Tony Scott. You know what that means: slick Hollywood horseshit. The tough-guy racing stuff is terrific — tense and exciting and dramatic and suspenseful — but the girly emotional, character stuff isn’t terrific — it’s overblown and boring and unbelievable.

Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise: Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia) has not one but two tragic secrets that keep him from trusting anyone or becoming the sleek, winning driver his raw talent suggests he could be. Will he wisen up enough to learn to trust Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall: Gone in 60 Seconds, Deep Impact), who built the car he races in NASCAR events for Tim Daland (Randy Quaid: Christmas Vacation, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle)? Will he succeed in his quest to play doctor with neurosurgeon Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman: Practical Magic, The Peacemaker), who thinks he’s insane? Will Claire stay for the big race? The suspense is not only not killing me, it’s practically nonexistent.

“We end up looking like a monkey fucking a football out there!” — Randy Quaid, stock-car owner, rants after a bad showing, and no one asks him how he knows what that would look like

Bring on the racing! Shot with the precision eye of one of the best directors of action sequences working today, the race stuff makes even the adrenaline of a nonfan like me surge, which is really saying something when you consider that I didn’t give a fig about the characters off the track. Rev those engines and floor the accelerator, though, and suddenly I care that Cole can’t win a race, that rival driver Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker: The Bone Collector, Song of Hiawatha) is cheating, that the beautiful car that Harry built gets smashed and dented, its beautiful paint job ruined, every single damn time Cole gets it out on the track. Damn that immensely talented, moderately virile, hot-tempered, insecure young driver with a chip on his shoulder!

“You infantile egomaniac!” — Nicole Kidman to Tom Cruise (add adorable Aussie accent)

Oh, sure, I know the racing is nothing but good-natured dick measuring between Cole and Rowdy, who’ll race whatever wheeled vehicles they can find, even if they have to use wheelchairs. But why do those bits need to be interrupted by the entirely ridiculous, entirely gratuitous, and entirely inevitable romantic interlude? It’s not like the guys in the audience even get treated to Nicole’s boobs or anything — it’s all demure, under the sheets stuff here. Scott wasted good racing time there.

“He’s all mine!” “This guy’s going down!” — overheard at NASCAR racetracks

And sure, we have to suffer through the downhome Southern wisdom of the likes of Harry and Fred Thompson (The Hunt for Red October) as Joe Don Baker as a NASCAR official, and my beloved Cary Elwes (Shadow of the Vampire, Twister) as a villain yet again. But Top Car— I mean, Days of Thunder is the most fun I think I’ve ever had watching testosterone-addled boys bathed in a golden American glow, like they’re in an Old Spice commercial, wallowing in cornball male bonding.


MPAA: rated PG-13

viewed at home on a small screen

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