Monday, January 24, 2011

Movies that Deserve Remakes - FYC - Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)

So in my last entry I got myself started thinking about this. Constructive criticism is always better than pointless bitching, after all. And I can hear the Gavin fans out there in TV-land saying, "if you're so smart, and you get to decide what movies shouldn't be remade, you must be able to think of some that should, Mister Cool Man". Well, you're right all the way down the line. I am that smart, and yes, I do get to decide these things, and you're damn right you call me Mister Cool Man. Now go get me a beer while I get this crunk.

The other day I treated myself to a movie that I needed to see to help complete my study of the oeuvre of Mickey Rourke. First, a quick sidebar on Mickey Rourke in toto. Most of the eggheads that talk about movies universally agree that Mickey Rourke was a great actor when he broke out of the gate back in the early 80s, but threw it all away thanks to drugs, drinking, and a decision to get into amateur boxing that wrecked his face.

In fact, this is completely the opposite of the truth. Mickey Rourke's early movies, like Rumble Fish and The Pope of Greenwich Village, are mostly unwatchable pieces of crap (Diner is not bad though). In them you can see Rourke's raw acting talent, but it's unformed, because he is unformed. He's a pretty boy, and all his mannerisms are foppish and annoying, like watching a punk teenager try to intimidate someone with all the baddassedness his little glandular body can muster. It's terrible to see, admittedly because we have the benefit of knowing what would happen to the man.

See, the problem the eggheads have is that Mickey Rourke became manly. He started making movies like Year of the Dragon and Barfly. The intelligentsia were willing to let these go, since he also made boring movies like 9 1/2 Weeks.

Then Rourke showed up in a movie so awesome, it had to have a disclaimer at the front of it - Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. This movie is historically important because from my reading of the man's filmography, this marks the turning point, the opening to what people like Roger Ebert would probably called Rourke's "Lost Decade" - the time when he made awesome movies that they didn't care about and showed up in bad movies to do great cameos. In other words, the time that I became a Mickey Rourke fan.

Overall, HDMM is unpolished, but still great. The characters are awesome, and the world they inhabit could be good but needs work - the dystopian future it hints at is intriguing. The direction, however, is great.The action scenes are straightforward - this is before the shaky-cam era - and the actors are well-choreographed so that they look like they know how to fight three dudes at once.The story is a little stupid, but the dialogue between the two main characters is great.

Basically, the story goes like this. Rourke, as Harley Davidson, gets bored of whatever he's doing in Dallas, which from the opening shots of the movie appears to be fucking chicks and then smoking in the dark, and heads back to LA. Once we get past the darkness shots, which are a bit self-indulgent, he fires up his bike and Bon Jovi's "Wanted" starts up. Yeah. It's that kind of movie.

So Harley gets to LA and hooks up with his pal known only as "The Marlboro Man" or "Marlboro" for short, played by the under-appreciated Don Johnson. Ironically, the Man has quit smoking, but that doesn't seem to stop him from holding his own hustling pool and whipping the shit out of some Indian bikers (casino, not customer service - though I like the idea of an Asian Indian MC). The chemistry between the two actors is instant and really comes through, and is helped a lot by the mostly-great dialogue. They hang out for a bit and decide to go to their favorite hangout.

On the way, we're shown that this is the grim future of 1996 (!), where development in LA has run rampant to the point that the Burbank Airport is now an International Airport. I have no idea what the fuck this is supposed to signify, but to the characters this is a sign of bad things to come. Mostly what it means for the plot is that property values are going way up thanks to the airport - meaning their hangout's lease is in jeopardy. So they decide to rob a bank with the help of their pals from the roadhouse. Yeah. It's that kind of movie. Remember, kids, this is before movies like Killing Zoe, a time where you have some brews with your bros and be like "we should totally rob a bank this weekend" and you fucking pull it off. Though what's funny is that in the movies robbing a bank is always shown to be this huge operation but really robbing a bank is so easy any one of you could go out and do it right now and probably not get caught. Sure, you'd only get some smokes 'n cokes money but I guess that's kind of the point.

Anyway, the robbery goes off without a hitch except for one small problem - Daniel Baldwin and his trenchcoat mafia show up, all armed with one of those weird European submachine guns that looks like a laser gun that I can never remember the name of. This is one of the weirder parts of the movie, as Baldwin and his crew move in unison like they're a drill team - even simultaneously jumping over a flaming motorcycle as they make it rain lead all over our heroes. It reminded me a lot of the shit you see in Hong Kong movies so maybe that was where they got the idea. Even stranger is that they never do this again, though that's not exactly a bad thing.

It turns out that the suitcases that our heroes stole were not full of money, but were in fact full of the latest new street drug, the name of which I forget but if you like these movies you could probably make one up yourself and come up with something better. Dark future, remember? So now the rest of the movie becomes about dodging Daniel Baldwin (they should've called his agent for tips - ZING!) and figuring out how to get the drugs back and get some money for them.

Along the way lots of things explode, lots of people die for no reason, and a good time is had by me watching it. I'm skipping a lot of stuff - really I could go through this movie scene by scene telling you about all the awesome little moments - but I'd rather you just watch it and see for yourself. It's not as fantastically bad as the eggheads would tell you it is, is the point. However, it does have several glaring flaws. The stuff about the airport makes no sense, let alone the plot where the roadhouse's landlord is also moving drugs, and somehow the Japanese are involved. Why does Baldwin's mafia all act like robots just that one time, then not for the rest of the movie? Aren't they hot in those coats? They're supposed to be body armor, but they don't really work like body armor should anyway. Why do we get two or three separate scenes where Rourke repeats the same dialogue about how his wife/girlfriend left him because either he was too much of a badass or he was just not a very good boyfriend/husband? What do these guys do for a living, anyway? And why could we not find an excuse for Tia Carrere to take her gear off? Was she just not that kind of a girl? Tell that to Hef.

To be fair, this was journeyman actor and Michael Bay pal Don Michael Paul's first effort as a screenwriter - and well, it shows. But he later went on to write and direct Half Past Dead (read Seagalogist Vern's take on the movie at that link), which was sort of like Cradle 2 Tha Grave but with Ja Rule instead of DMX, if that helps.

In the end I decided to make this movie my first "FYC" (for your consideration) in my series on movies that should be remade, because it was pretty good, and it could be even better with a bit more focus, tightening up the continuity, and figuring out what it wants to be about and what it wants to say. I had been thinking about remakes and how to use them for good instead of for evil, and this movie was right there to show me it was possible. Paul's script keeps reaching for something, some kind of mystical badass world where a guy can tell people "I'm the Marlboro Man" and mean it and people accept it, like he's a Man With No (Real) Name. But other shit keeps dragging him down and he can't quite get there. The main problem would be in the casting, trying to find actors that are manly enough. I know they're out there, but they're hard to find thanks to Hollywood only seeming to want action stars like Matt fucking Damon or DiCaprio. I bet most of these guys are in the DTV market, which seems to be exploding lately.

So I think a HDMM remake would work pretty well if the script was solid. It sure as shit couldn't be worse than some of the movies I see on offer at my local Redbox. Bear? Really? A movie about a fucking bear? Not to mention movie titles these days suck. Just "Bear"? That's all you got? So to me a movie called Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man would blow people away. It's time for longer titles, people.

What would I do different? First we'd have to nail the plot down a bit. The evil mortgage bank would work really well right now, do they really need to be involved in drugs, though? I'd think the land speculation would be enough. Have them tied in with a crooked government, too, that makes all the shooting and exploding a little more explainable and also makes the characters deciding to go outlaw more believeable. Also we need to really focus on the characters. Who are these guys? Is Harley Davidson his real name? (Sure as shit no hospital would let you put "Marlboro Man" on a kid's birth certificate, at least assuming the child was born before 2000. Now you could probably name your kid "Gentilly Robot" and the nurse would just roll her eyes and write it down.) What do they do, or used to do? Ex cops, special forces, what? It's okay if they're just badasses but just a smidge of backstory (I'm talking one or two lines of dialogue max) could help a lot. Make better use of the supporting characters - Big John Studd was sadly wasted in this film apart from a great fight scene at the beginning. Make the heavy a little more badass, too. I never got the feeling that if Baldwin lost his magical trenchcoat that he would be worth a shit. I think that would about do it, as the rest of this movie, from its action set pieces to its music, to it's great little scenes (like where Marlboro shoots his motorcycle) are all great.

Oh, and get some better strippers. Worst movie strippers I've ever seen.

1 comment:

  1. Dude,
    You should post more often. I love your posts. thoughtful, funny, and not afraid to sling a curse word here and there.