Sunday, March 23, 2014

Craption! Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Encore has it going on.  While staying in the Disneyland resort, one morning and two channels had the following movies playing:  Legend, King Arthur and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.  The latter is a forgotten gem of 90's Craption.  The story of two lifelong friends, Harley Davidson, a biker and petty crook and Marlboro, a former professional rodeo rider and general rabble-rouser played by Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson.  The duo reconnect in their hometown of Burbank, CA where the local airport has now gone international and their favorite watering hole is about to get gobbled up in the beautification process unless they can come up with $2.5 million smackeroos.  Harley recruits Marlboro and their old high school gang to pull a quick armored truck job but things go bad when there's no money to be found.  Instead, they've just hijacked a shipment of Crystal Dream, the newest, most destructive drug on the street.  Now with a posse of heavily armed and seemingly indestructible goons on their tail, Harley and Marlboro hit the trail before returning home and taking care of business.

Remember, me categorizing this as Craption isn't an insult, it's a compliment.  Why?  Because while critics and audiences didn't sing the films praises back in 1991, I discovered it and enjoy the heck out of it.  How many other future set, sci-fi tinged action westerns with a sense of humor can you name from the 90's?  Not many.  But seriously, if you can, send them my way because I love that shit.  Harley wasn't even a slapdash, direct to video effort, this was a big budget studio picture starring two hot commodities.  Mickey Rourke had established himself as a great on screen presence but still hadn't headlined a successful film and was becoming more known for his off-screen antics and asshole attitude.  Don Johnson was coming off his run on the hugely popular and trend setting show Miami Vice but hadn't had much luck making the jump to features.  With a healthy $20 million plus budget, Harley was reined by capable director Simon Wincer of Lonsome Dove, Quigley Down Under and later The Phantom fame.

As it stands, Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man is a fun flick.  It's ludicrous and exciting, ridiculous and entertaining.  You've got fisticuffs, gun fights, merciless bystander death, guys jumping over the wreckage of a sliding flaming bike, female nudity in the first minutes, a motorcycle riding montage set to Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive, airplane graveyards and professional wrestler Big John Studd throwing Rourke out of a window into a car among much more.  Rourke was paid his highest salary to date for the film, bringing in something like $2.7 million but of course, in Rourke fashion, trashed the film and said he only did it for the money.  In the film, his effortless cool is put to good use and Don Michael Paul's script gives him some quirky traits like being a horrible cook and not being able to hit shit with a gun.  Johnson gets a few more laughs as the downtrodden, former cowboy about to lose his woman.  He's dragged into each mess by Harley and lets his friend know what he thinks of each harebrained plan while trying to show Harley guns are meant to be shot, not thrown.  Marlboro's gags include prepping many a phrase with "My old man told me, before he left this shitty world" and constantly repairing his crumbling cowboy boots with duct tape.  Later we find out the boots were given to him by his father on the day of his first professional rodeo appearance.

Along for the ride is a spectacular supporting cast from the era including Tom Sizemore, Daniel Baldwin, Tia Carrere, Chelsea Field (Masters of the Universe!) and Vanessa Williams while Branscombe Richmond, Sven-Ole Thorsen and Kelly Hu pop up for a hot minute.  The filmmakers do a credible job of attempting to instill some character and drama beats between the absurd action sequences that are all done for real in the pre-CGI age and we get big explosions, motorcycles racing around the streets of Los Angeles, a jump from the roof of a Vegas hotel into the pool below, etc.  Harley is made out to be a sensitive loaner as he pines over the woman that left him without a word while Marlboro's nomadic lifestyle and "I am what I am" philosophy just isn't enough for his once a month girlfriend and true love.

While Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man has lived on as a futuristic, macho action western thanks to cable and video, upon it's theatrical release in late August of 1991, it opened at # 7 with a paltry gross of $2.2 million on it's way to a wimpy $7.4 million total.  That would put it behind other 1991 actioners like Stone Cold, The Perfect Weapon, Van Damme's Lionheart and Double Impact.  Rourke would take a hiatus from acting to embark on a short lived boxing career while Johnson would return to headline another popular TV series, Nash Bridges, after subsequent film roles did little to raise his profile.  Director Simon Wincer would find solace in television as well, directing 6 episodes of George Lucas' Young Indiana Jones series and striking box office gold with boy meets whale hit Free Willy.

Until next time, keep squeezing, not jerking, those triggers and remember:  it's better to be dead and cool than alive and uncool.  See you at the video store...that no longer exist...

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