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Top Gun Review: One of Life's Simple Joys Is Playing with the Boys

By TK Burton | Film | February 7, 2013 |

By TK Burton | Film | February 7, 2013 |

There was a time when Top Gun was viewed as a seminal “Guy Movie.” It had planes, and guys in crewcuts, and a rockin’ soundtrack. It seemed destined for the “Guy Movie” pantheon, to be on the list that would eventually include Die Hard, Gladiator, Lethal Weapon, Heat and Braveheart. This was before Cruise started having fits of apoplexy on Oprah’s furniture, before his Scientology informercials, before KatieBot v.1.2 and the subsequent divorce, before Rock of Ages. Cruise was on top of the world and director Tony Scott (RIP) seemed bound for greatness. Yet time has not been kind to Top Gun, and with each subsequent viewing it gets more and more ridiculous. The dialogue is cheesy, the acting’s overwrought, the relationships are goofy and the plot is nonsensical. Basically, I’m saying it’s awesome, and that it saved my life after a hangover. This weekend, it can save yours too, at the movie theaters. In 3D. I’m just paying this motherfucker forward, people.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the plot isn’t exactly written by a Mensa focus group. Top Gun was written by Jim Cash, the marvelous mind behind masterpieces such as Anaconda and Anaconda: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, and based on a magazine article by Ehud Yonay about fighter pilots. The Dark Prince of Xenu stars as Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a brash, play-by-his-own rules fighter pilot (the plot, it begs for clichés, people. Don’t be afraid) who’s trying to live up to the murky legacy of his father, who disappeared on a mission years before. He and his navigator/wingman Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) are one of the best pairs in their squad. Using Plots for Dummies as a bible, the top pilot , call sign “Cougar” (note: no one goes by their real names. Even the civilians have call signs. Bartenders, gas station attendants, horses, and hobos probably all have call signs in Top Gun Land) has a freak-out during a non-violent skirmish, because he’s not a svelte, big-balled braggadocio like Maverick. As a result, Maverick gets to take Cougar’s place at Top Gun, a sort of testosterone-fueled, sweat-soaked school for super pilots.

Upon arriving at Top Gun, he promptly clashes with his instructors Viper (Tom Skerritt) and Jester (Michael Ironside, who hasn’t unclenched his jaw since 1978), who see him as a talented but difficult prodigy who is a potential risk to his squadmates. He also grinds up in a completely heterosexual fashion against Iceman (played with uber-coolness by Val Kilmer’s teeth), the odds-on favorite to be the best of the best. Finally, he meets, woos and is schooled by Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), the civilian instructor charged with… well, nothing, really. I don’t recall her actually teaching anyone anything, or even doing anything other than standing listlessly in a classroom while Cruise uncomfortably leers at her, while Iceman seethes in sweaty, giant-toothed jealousy in the background. Needless to say, Maverick and Goose are the outcasts of the group, constantly breaking the rules of engagement while they struggle to gain the respect of their teachers and peers. Of course, in the end, Maverick learns the truth about his hero father, saves the world from World War III and gets the girl. Oh… uh, spoiler!

So there’s the plot, for what it’s worth. If it sounds stupid, that’s because it is. Top Gun is like Gatorade with extra sugar mixed in. It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s enjoyable, and it will rot your brain. It might also make you a bit jittery. With that bit of silliness out of the way, here are the Three Interesting Things About Top Gun That Make It Completely Insane Yet Awesome (TITATGTMICIYA):

1) The Dialogue: Oi. The dialogue is simply breathtaking, my good, rum-soaked people. It contains some of the cheesiest, most overblown, cackle-inducing phraseology you are likely to ever hear. The lion’s share of lousy dialogue is shared by Cruise, Kilmer and McGillis, who basically form the love triangle of the movie. McGillis isn’t helped by the fact that she’s so awful, so bland and hollow, that to call her wooden would be an insult to trees. On the one hand, it’s difficult to do much with lines like, “I see some real genius in your flying, Maverick, but I can’t say that in there. I was afraid that everyone in the tax trailer would see right through me, and I just don’t want anyone to know that I’ve fallen for you.” I mean, yeesh. But on the other hand, being boring, stone-faced and seemingly dead inside might work when you’re playing the Amish hausfrau in Witness, but in a movie that is supposed to be fiery and exciting… not so much. Only two actors really make it out unscathed — Edwards’s Goose is a relatively charming, goofy foil to Maverick, a clownish fun-lover who’s also the conscience of the pair. Meg Ryan, in a tiny role as Goose’s wife, is also pretty good for the 12 minutes she’s on film. But every other bit of dialogue is a gem of insanity — Kilmer is particularly hilarious with his biting criticisms of Maverick, as is Cruise when he responds (“that’s right, Ice… man. I am dangerous). Kilmer is notoriously known for desperately wanting out of the film, but was contractually bound to do it. Perhaps this explains his bitter, sarcastic characterization of Iceman, who also barely seems to want to be there, despite his, um… fascination with Maverick. Which leads us to…

2) The Inevitable Discussion about the Gay Subtext: There’s no way we can discuss the film without mentioning it, and there’s also no way to deny its existence. So let me just come out and say it, and people can start wringing their hands and cursing my name if they wish: Top Gun is the gayest film I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who once rented bisexual porn by accident (feel free to jump on the easy joke there). I don’t care what people say, I don’t care if you think it’s deliberate or not, but it’s undeniably there. It’s a penetration scene away from requiring a photo ID to rent it. It’s so gay that Nathan Lane watches it and blushes. What was supposedly supposed to appear as competitive tension between Iceman and Maverick instead becomes a taut, heated contest of eyefuckery and pursed-lipped looks of desire. In one of the numerous confrontation scenes that take place in (of course) the men’s locker room (in towels, no less), I swear there’s a moment where it looks like Maverick is about to caress Iceman’s cheek, then just take him right there in front of the squad. I dunno, maybe that’s how the Navy established who the best pilot was back then. Their love dares not speak its name, but it certainly drops enough hints; it might actually even be sexy if it wasn’t also so hilarious.

Two quick things things to illustrate: a) The sweating. Jesus, you want to talk about moist? I realize this it’s supposed to be hot, but everyone is literally glistening with sweat, in every frame of every scene. It’s compounded by the repeated closeup shots of Cruise and Kilmer’s faces, not to mention the routine shirtless/toweled locker room shots that manage to successfully be both incredibly goddamn funny and thick with sexual tension. b) The motherfucking volleyball scene. I can honestly say that for a brief moment I thought the scene was going to end in fellatio. Instead, it eventually leads to the Cruise/McGillis sex scene, which is probably worse. Here it is, just to help drive it home, and also to show just how insanely, gleefully awful the movie is. Enjoy it in all its shirtless, shiny, man-hugging glory.

3) The Soundtrack. Remember when I was heaping praise on The Crow’s soundtrack? Well, this is pretty much the opposite of that. The soundtrack to Top Gun features hits by such visionary performers such as Berlin, Teena Marie, Loverboy, and because Baby Jesus loves the shit out of you sots, two tracks by Kenny Loggins. One of which was actually nominated for an Oscar. I’m going to write that out just to drill it into your booze-addled brains: “Danger Zone,” by Kenny Loggins, was nominated for an Academy Award. Forget about Brokeback Mountain getting snubbed — if fucking Kenny Loggins getting a nomination doesn’t invalidate the entire charade that is the Academy Awards, then I have no earthly idea what does. Incidentally, the above volleyball also features Loggins’s brilliant track “Playing with the Boys,” a sample of which I figured I’d share with you:

I’m moving in slow motion,
Feels so good,
It’s a strange anticipation,
Knock, knock, knocking on wood
Bodies working overtime
Man against man
And all that ever matters
Is baby who’s ahead in the game
Funny but it’s always the same

Playing, playing with the boys
Playing, playing with the boys
After chasing sunsets
One of life’s simple joys
Is playing with the boys

That joke pretty much tells itself, no?

In all seriousness however, there’s an interesting bit of dichotomy about the action itself. The training and combat scenes are actually incredibly well shot and serve as damn good action pieces — so much so that Top Gun served as a model for a host of cheap imitators, such as Iron Eagle parts 1-17 (oh, Louis Gossett, you poor, poor bastard). Yet at the same time, apparently numerous Navy pilots ridiculed the movie, stating repeatedly that if they themselves were to pull any of the stunts that Maverick and Goose did, they’d likely be court-martialed. There’s no denying, however, that despite all of it’s goofiness, Top Gun is a fairly engaging action movie. However terrible a director Tony Scott had become (RIP) — his current obsession with berserker editing and saturated prints make his newer films near-unwatchable — the man used to really know how to shoot an action sequence. Top Gun, not to mention True Romance and Crimson Tide, definitely demonstrates that skill. He’s not a subtle director by any means (particularly here), but he had a gift for crafting some truly riveting scenes. The opening and closing scenes in particular feature some beautiful cinematography and remarkable editing, making you really feel like you’re in the cockpit with Russian MiG’s buzzing past you. It’s a shame that his supposed “dramatic” scenes couldn’t maintain that same quality.

Regardless, great action scenes do not make a great movie. Top Gun is poorly written, poorly acted and unintentionally hysterical. It’s brainless, goofy entertainment and deserves a place of honor in the Hangover Theater rankings. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it for normal, sober viewing — if you must watch a Tom Cruise film, you’re better off with something like Minority Report or Born on the 4th of July, which are genuinely good movies. Top Gun is more like the gay(er) Cocktail of the skies. Dumb fun that should be watched either while drunk, or the morning after as a remedy. Enjoy. Oh, and in case you haven’t seen this — I couldn’t resist:

This review is being republished because Top Gun is being re-released into theaters in 3D this weekend. No. This is not a review of the 3D version, and if that’s not OK with you, you can go screw.