If I want to watch Tom Cruise make himself the center of attention in a super-macho, highly competitive vehicle-related environment with cringeworthy lovemaking scenes and cheesy dialogue, I’ll just watch Top Gun, thank you very much.
(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing Days Of Thunder, a movie about how much money Top Gun made, brain trauma and extremely disturbing police probing.)
I really wanted to try to eschew the obvious Top Gun comparison in approaching my first viewing of Days Of Thunder, but I’m pretty sure that is all the filmmakers behind the movie were aiming to achieve when making this.
Tom Cruise fills his role as the Great At Everything hero who gets a little unnerved after a colleague gets injured and then goes right back to being Great At Everything. Director Tony Scott brought his lens filters. The music department dusted off the synth and guitar. The scriptwriters labored to switch every mention of flight school with NASCAR, and boom, off to Charlotte they went.
This movie is extremely disturbing at times. Days Of Thunder’s depiction of NASCAR involves a lot of Confederate flags. There’s a scene where a very prominent Tom Cruise appendage is groped by a woman disguised as a police officer. I audibly exclaimed while scrubbing my eyes in a futile attempt to burn the image of Cruise’s bulging underwear from my memory. There’s a scene where Cruise’s Cole Trickle threatens a head trauma patient with a baseball bat if he doesn’t go in for treatment.
Days Of Thunder builds tension and transitions from scene to scene with the same nuance and smoothness as Nicole Kidman trying to decide if she wants to disguise her accent in this movie. Often, some things happen, and then we jump to other things happening, seemingly at random or with transitions missing and the sound mixing has to catch up.
Fortunately, there is some good to come out of it all. While the actual racing scenes are visually and audibly exciting and well shot, they’re fairly incoherent and awkward in their editing. The hospital wheelchair race is fun, and the destructive rental car race is even better.
There’s also some incredibly quotable lines, like “there’s nothing stock about a stock car,” “tires win races,” “rubbing is racing,” and “like a monkey fucking a football.”
But ultimately, Days Of Thunder is mostly boring and it’s clear that nobody involved really bothered to make this anything more than a post-Top Gun cash grab. You don’t get a good look at the NASCAR community because we come at it from the lens of a California asshole, there’s no real drama or tension, and the movie fails to come up with something better than Highway to the Danger Zone. That’s a tall order, but still disappointing.
Talladega Nights was the better John C. Reilly racing movie, but we’ll get to that eventually.
That’s all from me, now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about Days Of Thunder:
1) Harry Hogge is seen switching back and forth between University of Florida and University of Georgia hats in the movie. In 1980's Daytona (hell, even today), this would have gotten Robert Duval’s ass kicked.
2) Speaking of Daytona, the road race between Rowdy and Cole is just a god damn mess of continuity. They’re litterally all over the map, driving on a bridge away from the coast and then smashing into one another on the beach a moment later. Greatly troubling.
3) Cary Elwes sunglasses and accent.
Like chain store pizza Days of Thunder is predictable, formulaic, but still pretty good.
You ever convince yourself you won’t eat that greasy chain store pizza after you’ve stuffed the sixth slice into your mouth but then end up hankering for it two weeks later? That’s what Days of Thunder is to me and presumably other fans of this film.With a memorable soundtrack during key moments, a simple plotline that anyone can follow, and a POV-ish driving experience on the track, Days of Thunderhold’s its own as peak 90's entertainment I will probably watch many more times.
Admittedly, the best of that sweet Hans Zimmer soundtrack that highlights turning points in this movie is towards the beginning, especially that main title music. If that opening didn’t get you amped up for the next 90 minutes, I don’t know what would. With its synth-heavy foundation and liberal use of guitar riffs, Zimmer’s soundtrack really captures the spectacle of what I’m assuming is period correct early 90's NASCAR racing.
Then there’s a simple plot line. There’s not much to it, really. Young open-wheel racer struggles but succeeds in a different arena. I don’t think there’s anything to add to that. It did allow me to just enjoy this movie and focus on the little things.
And finally, there’s the racing, particularly NASCAR racing set in the early 90's. A lot like Top Gun sort of made me feel like I was in the cockpit with Goose and Maverick, Days of Thunder does the same thing for me. The camera’s pointed at the driver, but like any competent car movie does, different angled shots combined with engine sounds and Zimmer’s music through my earholes makes for a great POV experience.
Even when Paramount greenlighted a quasi-amusement ride/ movie with moving and rumbling seats (throwback anyone?) I found it to be only marginally better than the movie and a waste of waiting an hour in line for.
This probably is the fourth time I’ve seen this film start to finish. I’ll give it another year before I’m ready to re-watch it again.
In the wayback days of VHS rentals, when I was a wee lad of 7-10 years old, I rented DoT more times than I can count. My dad used to refer to it as one giant Exxon advertisement. The product placement was quite prominent, falling in line with actual NASCAR.
I love this film. It was the perfect mixture of loud noise, loud personalities, and timeless one-liners.
“There’s kamikaze drivers and calculatin’ drivers.”
“We can go down there and get your head fixed, or we can fix it right here!”
“You’re quick” “You should see me drive.”
“He’s destroyed both my cars.”
“If you pick a line you can drive through it.”
Tom Cruise and Carey Ewles didn’t quite fit the visual representations of typical NASCAR heroes, but, that was the intention with his character. He, of the refined “open wheel” world.
It’s a beautiful Cinderelle story that is timeless, flawless and the perfect way to build a gear head out of any prepubescent boy.
Long Live Cole Trickle!!
Hoo-Boy One of my all time favorites.
You see my dad was an ASA crew chief in the early 80's so when this film came out it was one of his favorites. He loved to pick apart the particulars of the movie.
First lets talk about the names used in the movie.
Cole Trickle, probably because they couldn’t use the name of real life NASCAR legend Dick Trickle (the best name in all of racing).
But they had to get at least one dick joke in there, so they named the Crew Chief Harry Hogge (the best name in fake racing)
Then were on to the next group of supporting characters - Rowdy Burns, the Bad Ass Intimidator knock off, Russ Wheeler, the young gun and Dr. Claire Lewicki (which is probably a shoutout to Alan Kulwicki)
So there’s dick jokes and fan service covered.
Sure there’s cringe worthy humor that hasn’t aged well such as the thinking that they pretty doctor lady is a stripper instead of an actual Neurosurgeon, and the wheelchair race out of the hospital, but there are also some classic lines “I want you to go out there and I want you hit the pace car” “The pace car Harry? What for?” “You hit every other goddamned thing on the track I want you to be perfect.” (one of the best lines in any racing movie) and the Ice Cream pit stop where they lose a sponsor because they looked like “a monkey trying to fuck a football”
You also have to love that none other than Cal Naughton Jr. Makes an appearance in this film as Bucky Brotherton. I wonder how much this film experience set up John C. Reilly and Will Ferrel’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
But the problem with this film is that it documents the beginning of the decline of stock car racing, it’s push into mainstream and the dilution of what “Stock Car Racing” meant, I mean the featured hero car is the Chevrolet Lumina, in stock form a front wheel drive W-body, which NASCAR allowed to be converted into a rear wheel drive “Stock Car” to compete against the aerodynamically superior Ford Thunderbird. Had the movie been made in 1988 instead of 1989, it would have featured the last time that all manufacturers involved in NASCAR had rear wheel drive production cars as the nameplates for their race cars. I’m sure that Days of Thunder had a positive impact on NASCAR viewership and pushed the sport into mainstream, though recent attempts to make the racers achieve parity, through the Car of Tomorrow, the strange cabal of rules, manufactured drama, odd points rules, and a manufactured playoff system has made long time fans become less interested in the sport.
That being said, Rubbin’ is racing. And Days of Thunder is one helluva enjoyable movie.
And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing the Sorcerer (1977), which is unfortunately only available to rent or buy unless you’re like me and get to see it projected in 35mm this weekend, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.
In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of Days Of Thunder and all of its mediocrity, and see you all next week!