Saturday, June 13, 2015

CRACKER? Top Gun (1986)


                “Top Gun” did more to restore the military in the public’s eye going into the Persian Gulf War than any other war movie.  It was not designed to do that.  Jerry Bruckheimer and his partner Don Simpson got the idea for the film from an article about the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School in San Diego.  They were drawn by the title of the article – “Top Gun”.  That would make a kick-ass title for a film about a rebel who learns to be a team player with the help of a hot chick.  Why not supersize it with $37 million F-14 Tomcats and a pulsating rock sound track?  And laugh all the way to the bank.

Trust me, America.  This ain't Vietnam.
                The film opens in the Indian Ocean “present day”, so don’t even think the movie is about the Vietnam War.  MiGs (F-5s painted black in case you have trouble distinguishing bad guys) are threatening one of our aircraft carriers.  An F-14 pilot named “Maverick” (in case you have trouble determining a character’s personality) flies upside down over the camel fighter jock (the enemy is never identified, but we are encouraged to see them as Middle Eastern).  Maverick (Tom Cruise) gives him the finger.  America, f*** yeah!  The MiG scampers because it is obvious this is no longer the panty-waist U.S. military of the 1970s.  Unfortunately, the best pilot on the carrier (“Cougar”) freaks out over having an enemy fighter tail him.  Apparently no one ever told him that was part of his job.  Maverick has to help him land (disobeying orders in the process, of course).  Mav gets the obligatory reaming when he returns, but on the plus side Cougar’s spot for Fighter Weapons School is now open.  Who better to fill it than the pilot who is always in trouble?
MiG at 3 o'clock.  It must be a bogey because it's painted black.
 Permission to inspire a Pepsi commercial?

                Maverick and his back seater “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) are off to San Diego and just like the week before a college session, there is time for some partying and tail chasing (the other kind).  Maverick’s go-to move is to sing “Loving Feeling” to his target for a one night stand.  This one scene can serve as a litmus test of whether you will like this movie.  Charlie (Kelly McGillis) brushes him off because first base never comes in the first inning of a war movie.  You’ll never guess who the expert on MiGs is at the school.  Wait, since the movie is fictional, go ahead and guess.  Part of the schooling involves mock dogfighting so we can have some breaks from the smoochy parts.  The head trainer is the gruff “Jester” (Michael Ironsides).  He’s the kind of jock whose cockpit chatter includes “You can run, but you cannot hide”.  He takes a liking to Maverick because dogfighting is not all about the rules.  You don’t want to discourage a warrior, you just want to rein him in a bit.
I'd like to give a huge shout-out to my agent, but a
big f-u to the cinematographer who dissed my abs
                There are two romantic subplots in the movie.  Maverick is wooing “Charlie”.  At the same time, he has this homoerotic thing going on with his rival “Ice Man” (Val Kilmer).  Or did I misread the sweaty, shirtless volleyball game?  It is a race to see who Maverick will go to bed with first.  Meanwhile, Maverick lives up to his nickname in training and even gets someone killed.  This facilitates the requisite personal crisis common in movies of this ilk.  It will take some kind of national crisis to get Maverick back in the saddle and to bring the movie to a rousing, rock-fueled climax that will have the audience cheering.
What do you mean by "actions have consequences"?
And what does "hubris" mean?

                “Top Gun” was a huge hit. It tapped into the patriotism of the Reagan Eighties.  People were tired of the self-flagellation of the Vietnam War movies and the angst of the Seventies.  The movie purposely avoided any reference to the Vietnam War except to specify that Maverick was seeking redemption for some vague mistake his father made in that war.  In a sense, the movie was seeking redemption from the American public for the Vietnam War.  It could be stretched to theorize that the success of the movie helped America to feel good about its military again and may have thus paved the way for our cocky intervention in the Persian Gulf War.  Interestingly, “Heartbreak Ridge” came out the same year, but had less success with rehabilitating the military.  The time was right for those types of flag-wavers.
Hey, ladies, don't you wish this bad boy were yours?
All I had to do was act four inches shorter than I am.

                The Pentagon sensed this vibe and gave enormous cooperation to the filmmakers.  Bruckheimer and Simpson were aided by the military’s belief that they had made a big mistake in giving “An Officer and a Gentleman” the cold shoulder.  The Navy swagged the movie with two aircraft carriers, Miramar Naval Air Station, a bevy of F-14s, and the technical advisers that came with them.  Although it was claimed that the script was not meant to stimulate recruiting,  it did have this effect which means the military support was well-rewarded.  The cooperation extended to chilling out on the usual over-protectiveness of Navy morals.  The script was allowed to show fighter pilots partying and behaving like frat boys.  In other words, the movie depicts the pilots like all the other twentysomething males in Eighties movies.  Unfortunately, the unintended consequence is that a Pentagon investigation would later partially blame the Tailhook scandal on “Top Gun”!  The one script adjustment agreed to was making Charlie a civilian.  In other words, the Pentagon insisted on ludicrous over simply ridiculous. 
If the Navy recruited bat women, there would
have been a stampede

                All this historical significance for a movie that is parody bait.  (See “Hot Shots!”)  It is another war movie aimed at fourteen year old boys and girlfriends of older guys.  The boys get the rock sound track, the locker room hijinks, and the awesome dogfighting.  The females get the fantasy of a non-hottie getting Tom Cruise and a bunch of good bad-boys swatting each other with towels.  The script does not leave its demographic ponder-challenged.  All of the scenarios are contrived and hammily foreshadowed.  The narrative arc has existed for decades of war movies.  Boy is rebel, boy meets girl, girl flirts with boy, boy gets girl, boy has personal crisis on the way to redemption, girl helps boy overcome adversity.  (The PG-13 romance was apparently meant to not offend President Reagan.)  Speaking of clichés, the movie is not as bad as many, but it does have: the main character loses his best friend and considers himself responsible, a pilot is obsessed with proving himself, a maverick learns to fit in, a pilot rides a motorcycle.
Wanted:  actor who looks good in a shirtless volleyball
game and will work cheap.  No talent required.

                The only strength of the movie is the aerial scenes.  There are some cool dogfights and none of that off-putting CGI.  In fact, the Tomcats do the best acting in the movie.  The three main characters are ridiculous and the actors don’t help distract from this.  How much respect do you have for your audience if you make Charlie an astro-physicist who teaches MiG fighter tactics at Fightertown?  There is no chemistry between Cruise and McGillis.  McGillis was a head-scratching choice for the role.   She is not hot enough to overcome the underwritten role.  Cruise and Kilmer deserve kudos for having the chutzpah to nosh their ludicrous roles with the laughable dialogue that reaches a crescendo with the closing:  “You can be my wingman anytime.”  “Bull shit, you can be mine.”
As in every romantic comedy, there must be
conflict before the kiss

                Quantity of box office receipts is not a good way to determine the quality of a movie.  “Top Gun” was the highest grossing film of the year.  Not to mention the sales of the sound track.  It was critically acclaimed - by the public.  But I would counsel against using winning the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture to determine how good a movie is.  The cruel fact is that from a war movie perspective, this movie stinks. It is somewhat entertaining if you can laugh instead of weep over the plot and acting.  Good drinking game – drink every time Cruise gives his patented shit-eating grin.  You’ll soon be drunk and then the rest of the movie will be more enjoyable.
Drink, again.  By the way, this kind of student never
sits in the front row.



If every airman’s nickname tells you about them, why is Bradshaw called “Goose”?

Why did Maverick get Goose’s dog tags instead of his wife and why would Maverick honor him by throwing them in the ocean?

Why doesn’t recklessly causing the death of a Top Gun candidate get you washed out of the school?  Especially after you had already been reprimanded. 





  1. Its not a war movie... its a sports movie. New kid in school, bit of a loner missfit, but for reasons junior highschool girls get goofy. Hes too cool, and the girls all like him, but hes after the good student, good girl, and he isnt a total dirt bag... his best friend has a steady girlfriend and hes really good at (insert sport here.).

    Guys think hes cool because he bones the hot biology teacher, wins over his coach (who almost kicks him off the team but doesnt) and wins a seat at the cool kids table with val kilmer and company with a game saving play.

    Dude... maybe i can make up for not making the basketball team or getting laid in highschool by enlisting in the Navy!!!

  2. Interesting take. Now try "Pearl Harbor".

  3. You are very, very generous about this awful movie. At least we got a cool Kenny Loggins song out of it.


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