In the ’90s we thought this was a good idea: “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”

September 2, 2013


So, um, who thought green-lighting this movie was a good idea? I mean, really, what was the selling point here? I just…I’m sorry, I can’t figure out why an actual movie studio—you know people whose job it is to sell things that the general public wants to see—decided to blow millions of dollars on a watery action movie starring two stars at the end of their initial peak and the beginning of their long season in the wilderness. Oh, and they gave an overly cutesy title featuring two brand names synonymous with masculinity and embodied them with one dude famous for playing punks and another who wore pastel colors for five seasons. I’m tempted to think the whole movie was an elaborate practical joke, but I can’t figure out on whom.

No, really I’m trying to understand the reason for this movie’s existence, but it seems meaningless, like the existence of those monkeys that only drink fermented juice. You just have to look at them and say, That was a bad idea. I just can’t get my brain to envision any scenario in which a couple of studio executives in 1989 are sitting down to some Tab colas, after a hard day of snorting coke off of Jay McInerney novels and one says to the other, “You know what kind of a picture we should make? We should make a modern-day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The kids loved that picture.”

“Yeah! And we could set it in the future!”

“Too expensive.”

“Couple years in the future, say, 1996. People will have some funky clothes but all the cars and rest of the world will look the same.”

“Awesome, and we gotta have two recognizable ‘types’…like maybe a cowboy, and a biker.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! And they get into machine gun fights!”

“Of course! Everybody’s gonna have machine guns in 1996.”

“And…wait for it…we get Mickey Rourke to play the biker! He’s surefire Oscar bait after 9 ½ Weeks, and…who’s that badass cop from a couple years ago?”

“Don Johnson as the cowboy. I am with you! I am with you! Now hang on, I just…holy crap, man, it’s like god touched my brain. You what this picture’s gonna be called? Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Get it? The cowboy’s the Marlboro Man and the biker’s fuckin’ Harley Davidson. Tell me that isn’t brilliant!”

“This movie is going to be bigger than 48 Hours.”

Mickey Rourke is synonymous with “150 million opening weekend.”

I guess that’s how this movie could have happened. I sure don’t know how else it could have. Basically, this movie is a doofy heist movie. Two old buddies, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (seriously, those are their names…it’s never explained), decide to knock over an armored car belonging to a bank that’s buying out their favorite bar. Unfortunately, along with the stash, they find a large amount of a new designer drug called Crystal Dream. Now, the dealers (who are also high-powered bankers) want their product back and dispatch assassins to get it. Wackiness ensues (and it really is wacky).

So what’s the film got? Well…

* Great opening scene on the Fourth of July 1996, in which Rourke, in a darkened, cheap hotel, gets dressed while listening to a news report about the various troubles that plague Amerca, and a hooker dozes naked in the bed. Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive” plays on the soundtrack. It’s noirish and vaguely sinister…and the only time the movie actually evokes a mood (it turns out not be the mood of the movie, though).

* A (then-unknown) Kelly Hu shows up in an early scene. Like bacon, Kelly Hu makes everything awesome. And by “everything” I mean her scene. I just really like Kelly Hu is what I’m saying, I guess.

There is nothing not good in this picture.

* The major good guys are named after brands of stuff that are bad for you: Marlboro Man, Virginia Slim, Jack Daniels. There’s no Colt Fortyfive, but I didn’t watch the deleted scenes, so who knows?

* Oh, and those aren’t nicknames, they’re the names people actually go by. Nope, no explanation.

* What kind of movie is this? The kind where Harley and Marlboro wear masks during the robbery, but call each other by their names in full hearing distance of the people they’re stealing from.

* The kind in which Tom Sizemore and Daniel Baldwin play aristocratic, upper-class villains. Bwahahahahahah! As if wearing turtlenecks under blazers and not using contractions would distract the world from what raging coke-heads they are…

The kind where the bad guys all dress like this

* The kind which gives Tia Carrere precisely two scenes in which she does absolutely nothing. Kind of a waste of a Tia Carrere, and you don’t come across many of those.

* What kind of movie is this? The kind where Don Johnson can wear a cowboy hat while tearing ass on a motorcycle.

* The kind where Marlboro no longer smokes and Harley had given up drinking…goddamn, the ’90s sucked.

* Vanessa Williams—one of those most beautiful women ever created (trust me on this)—has a couple of throwaway scenes as a performer at the bar and…wait, how is possible Vanessa Williams can’t dance? But there it is. I blame the ‘90s. They ruined a lot of stuff.

* Harley and Marlboro’s robbery gets all their friends killed in retribution. They don’t feel much responsibility for it.

* As I mentioned earlier, this movie is set in the “not-too-distant future” of 1996…for absolutely no reason, since everything looks the same as it did in 1991 (they mention that Burbank is now an airport, but that’s it).

In the future, all sexy hitchhikers will wear mom-jeans…

* In an homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , Harley and Marlboro jump off the top of a high-rise hotel into the swimming pool, because, you know, you jump from any height into a body of water eight-feet deep and totally survive unscathed.

* The deus ex machine that saves the good guys and kills the bad guys is a helicopter with an onboard minigun that just happens to pop into frame and slaughter all the bad guys. Nope, it doesn’t belong to either of our heroes, and isn’t a part of any plan they have. It just happens to be around and I guess the pilot figured what the hell. Well, that’s handy.

* This is a movie that the producers thought would be good to release the same summer as Terminator 2.

Behold the action stars of the ’90s…or not.

Yeah, this is a silly movie that pretty much drove a spike through the careers of Johnson and Rourke. Johnson acquits himself well, and reminds you that he’s actually a good actor underneath the Miami Vice stylings. I’m pleased he had a soft-landing with Nash Bridges and now enjoys a late-career comeback as a scene-stealing character actor in Machete and Eastbound and Down. As for Rourke…well, he got an Oscar nomination and then, ah, Immortals. Oh caramba…

Next we watch Jean-Claude Van Damme punch a snake (really, he does that) in Hard Target.

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