Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Simon Wincer Actors: Mickey Rourke, Don Johnson, Chelsea Field, Daniel Baldwin, Giancarlo Esposito, Vanessa Williams, Tia Carrere, Tom Sizemore, Kelly Hu
t begins with a disclaimer stating that no trade name for an existing company is being promoted, nor has any company approved, sponsored, or endorsed the title or content. This was, of course, a matter many will have wondered about. The actual start of the movie features Mickey Rourke staring out a window while a naked woman stirs in the nearby bed (the girl is Mitzi Martin, credited only as “The Woman”). After the credits, he identifies himself as Harley – Harley Davidson, as if he were the white trash, biker version of James Bond. This introduction is given to a gas station clerk as the store is being held up by an armed thug. A scene later, his partner in crime, the equally rugged, hustling cowboy Robert “Marlboro” Anderson (Don Johnson), defends himself in a bar brawl. And that’s about the extent of their character development.
The duo visits their friend’s landmark bar in Los Angeles, where the enormous Jack Daniels (Big John Studd) initiates yet another fight with Harley. The owner, “Old Man” (Julius Harris), reveals that unless he can get $2.5 million, the bank will take away the business he’s run since ’66. Recognizing their sentimental need for the longtime haven, Harley, Marlboro, Jack, Jimmy Jiles (Giancarlo Esposito), and the silent Jose (Eloy Casados) vow to rob the Great Trust Bank’s armored truck, for quick funds. Though the heist is successful, they’re momently stalled by a gang of machinegun-toting, bulletproof trench coat-adorned guards, led by icy cold lieutenant Alexander (Daniel Baldwin). When Harley investigates their stolen loot, they discover that it’s not the cash they’d hoped for, but the new drug Crystal Dream (a highly addictive hallucinogen dropped into the user’s eyes for a potent trip), in its pure, frozen form. And the distributor, Chance Wilder (Tom Sizemore), wants it back at all costs.
The tone is tongue-in-cheek, taking the violence and excitement with little sincerity. No one seems to be in any real danger. When the dilettante thieves negotiate an exchange, they walk away without a care, never once worrying about being in over their heads. And when Alexander and his goons come back for the money, thanks to the obvious tracking device planted in the briefcase, the group is taken by surprise – as if they’ve never seen a heist-gone-wrong movie before. The writers similarly seem unaware of how to devise an escalation of events with plausibility and reason. If Alexander was going to march around shooting innocent civilians in plain view of witnesses, why wouldn’t he just execute everyone at the original swapping location (which was an abandoned airplane graveyard)? Even after tragedy strikes, convincing remorse is elusive and the realization of mortality doesn’t set in.
The first half of the picture establishes characters and motives, but once Harley and Marlboro go on the run, the original premise is completely abandoned. It becomes a mere getaway mission. Survival is the primary focus, though revenge eventually enters the frame towards the end. A meaningless subplot involving Marlboro’s love interest, appropriately named Virginia Slim (Chelsea Field), also appears, struggling to compete with goofy catchphrases and constant references to Marlboro’s father’s advice, and tired action scenes such as a dive off a casino rooftop that is blatantly reminiscent of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (which this film’s title also seems to spoof). Basil Poledouris’ score has trouble competing with the steady rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack; the scripting is absolutely absurd; and while the movie is set in 1996, just a few years into the future, futuristic elements are nowhere to be found – save for the ludicrous bulletproof dusters worn by Alexander and his troops. Ironically, Harley and Marlboro are just as insusceptible to slugs, though they brandish no protective coverings whatsoever.
– Mike Massie