Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 1990
Directed by: Tony Scott
Genre: Action / Drama / Romance
Stars: 3 out of 5
With “Top Gun,” “The Color of Money” and “Cocktail,” producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, along with director Tony Scott, had time to perfect a formula that they repeat in “Days of Thunder.” It is seemingly a winning formula, since audiences came back for more of this creative team’s work.
In another classic story of a man proving himself, Tom Cruise plays the role of Cole Trickle, a young stock-car driver with good instincts, little initial knowledge and lots of appetite for competition. Hired to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Cole makes his entrance in typical Tom Cruise style, riding on a motorcycle through fog on the backdrop of glorious 1980s music. Cole finds himself at the wheel of a car built by veteran Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), who becomes his mentor and teaches him how to use his raw talent to win. An initial rivalry between Cole and fellow racer Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) ends with Cole on a hospital bed, where he meets pretty brain doctor, Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman). It is easy to see where this leads, and the viewer is not left unsatisfied. The finale is dramatic and brings to the foreground a fierce competitor and seemingly despicable human being, Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes). His purpose is not only to win Daytona 500, but to destroy Cole. As the formula requires and the viewers expect, that does not happen.
This is a classic Tom Cruise movie, with all the necessary apparatus, from sunglasses to roaring engines, fast action and winning romance. While more tamed than the spectacular aircraft shows in “Top Gun” and lacking its patriotic undertones, “Days of Thunder” offers plenty of speed and opportunities for indulging the viewer’s appetite for competitive sports. The close-up shots during the race that spell drama, the engaging and obvious synthesizer musical background that accompanies the action and the generous shots of racing cars are paired with lots of technical talk to appeal to every possible desire of masculine audiences. All boxes are thoroughly checked. For the nostalgic viewer whose cinematic tastes were molded on the Tom Cruise formula, “Days of Thunder” is an enjoyable treat.
Too much character development is not what “Days of Thunder” is after. Humor is a good replacement that ensures viewer interest is kept alive between shots of racing cars. It is the kind of humor much appreciated by a viewer who wants to relax rather than decode undermeanings of a film. The humor is mainly harmless shenanigans and ironic remarks coming from the mouth of an intellectually superior woman. Words are not even necessary to accomplish the goal, as is the case in the scene where the two injured competitors, Cole and Rowdy, race each other in their wheelchairs down the hospital hallway, unable to part with their competitive spirit.
While this is definitely a guy movie, the feminine audience finds enough to savor in “Days of Thunder.” In this first movie together (“Far and Away” and “Eyes Wide Shut” followed), the chemistry between Cruise and Kidman is fantastic. Started on a humorously unfortunate note, the love story between their characters offers viewers the chance to witness a sexually charged physical exam that Dr. Lewicki gives Cole. They also find that a dialogue filled with car racing jargon can have very sensual undertones, not to mention Tom Cruise’s winning smile and piercing eyes, which are enough to convince chick-flick lovers to bear through another race. The Cruise-Kidman romance is of secondary importance, however. “Days of Thunder” is the ultimate song of glory written on the pedestal of masculinity, and that is perfectly fine.
The movie can only benefit from its cast (Randy Quaid, Fred Thompson, Chris Ellis, etc.) and a sound team that delivers some good Oscar-nominated work. As a side note, the viewers get a peek of a young John C. Reilly in a secondary role and looking very much in the right place. “That was fast,” he says at one point, and the viewer who remembers him in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” cannot help but make connections.
A spectacular show of screeching tires, roaring engines and tortured metal, “Days of Thunder” is the perfect entertaining movie for those who want more action and less emotional complications. The emphasis is on the masculine main character, who has to prove himself in a public and definite way. While, unlike “Top Gun,” not much is at stake, except maybe the dealership tycoon’s money and Cole’s pride, but the story is well-built and entertaining.
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