Tom Cruise tends to star in two kinds of movies. The first, including the comedy Risky Business (1983) and the dramas Rain Man (1988) and last year’s Bom on the Fourth of July, are quality features that put the actor’s dramatic talent and winning looks to good use. Pictures of the second sort, including Top Gun (1986) and Cocktail (1988), seem mere excuses to have the heartthrob pump profits between serious films. Cruise’s latest vehicle is of the latter variety. Neither funny nor dramatically provocative, Days of Thunder is mostly a loud movie. Engines rev, brakes screech, crowds roar. But it is not a very good movie. With a ramshackle plot and shoddily developed characters, it is all souped up with nowhere to go.
The plot centres on the volatile relationship between Cole Trickle (Cruise), a down-and-out stock-car racer, and Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), a former crew chief who abandoned racing after one of his drivers was killed. Reluctant to return to the sport, Hogge is convinced by a fast-talking promoter (Randy Quaid) to give Trickle a try. Apparently floored by the young man’s speed after a mere two times around the track, Hogge races to his garage to build a stock car worthy of the boy wonder. Despite his ignorance of the finer points of racing and a refusal to take advice, Trickle wins a race almost as effortlessly as he has won the confi-
dence of Hogge—and just as incredibly.
In rapid succession, Trickle makes an enemy of fellow racer Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) and a lover of his beautiful doctor (Australian Nicole Kidman). Those relationships provide the movie with its few redeeming moments. In a scene following a race-track pileup, Trickle and Bums race their wheelchairs through the corridors of a hospital, unable to conceal their mutual hatred long enough to inquire how badly the other has been hurt. Director Tony Scott and screenwriter Robert Towne have squandered such dramatic tension, however, in their determination to make the film into one big car chase. Even off the track, Trickle and Bums spend much of their time duelling behind the wheel. In one scene, the two characters rent cars to drive to a business dinner, only to senselessly smash them up on the way there.
Like the promoter who brings Trickle and Hogge together, the makers of Days of Thunderhave subjugated the real drama of stock-car racing to their desire to cash in on the sport— and on the box-office appeal of Cruise. At times, the movie comes close to revealing what draws racers to risk their lives. In one of the few genuinely engaging scenes, Trickle’s girlfriend asks why he chose the profession. “To know that I can control something that’s out of control,” he responds. But long before then, Days of Thunder has gone into a tailspin from which it never recovers.
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