Mascott’s Movie Rewind – Days of Thunder

Originally posted July 28th, 2010.



As a young man, like many other boys my age, I went through a phase where I thought NASCAR was awesome. I was led into it by the fact that a lot of the Matchbox cars I was getting had names and faces on the cards, and I was told that there was an entire sport based around them. This fascinated me, and through my Grandpa and my cigar chomping uncles I came to idolize the drivers and their cars and the sport itself.

And then I watched an actual race.

Or, more to the point, I watched five minutes of an actual race before I realized just how boring it was.

Can you really blame a 6 year old? I mean, say what you will about baseball being boring but at least they don’t show commercials during at-bats because each one is basically the same as all the others. For something moving at 200 miles per hour, NASCAR races sure are slow. In fact, the only really interesting part of a stock car race, for me and I’m sure a lot of other people, is when one of those things moving at 200 miles per hour collides with something moving 0 miles per hour.

I say this, because I need to make it clear that I have no long standing affection for stock car racing, something that this movie kind of really wants you to have.

DAYS OF THUNDER starts off with a used car dealer who suddenly decides he wants to own a race car-a thought we’ve all had at one point or another -however, in a critical failure to realize just how bitchin’ he would be at 175 mph, he doesn’t actually want to drive it himself. Instead, he hires California dandy Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise, to race for him. He also brings Robert Duvall onto his race team to whisper sweet nothings to the car before races (On a side note, Robert Duvall is actually really good in this movie). Cole proves himself and gets on a winning streak before (apparently?) entering into a rivalry with another driver (because it was made in the 80s, the good guy needs a rival) who causes an accident that leaves both of them in the hospital and off the track. Tom Cruise starts up a (somewhat strange) relationship with his doctor, played by Nicole Kidman.

…..I didn’t like this movie.

Cole Trickle, the main character, is just kind of a badly constructed character. It’s like he comes into the movie in medias res but he doesn’t have any kind of medias. It’s like you’re expected to know everything about him without much character development at all. That, and what you do find out about him is that he’s kind of a bastard. He does crazy, irrational things that might make a lot more sense to someone who understands what race drivers go through on a day to day basis, but to anyone else it often seems like attempted murder. Calling Cole Trickle a sociopath might not be the least warranted statement in the world! One minute he’s playing bumper cars in a rent-a-car in the city, what’s he doing the next? Is he hacking off someone’s limbs because they complimented Nicole Kidman? We just don’t know!

Now, I know nothing about the actual rules of NASCAR. However, most of the racers seem less interested in a test of skill against other talented drivers and more interested in killing everyone else on the track. There isn’t a race featured in this film without 20 car wrecks and spinning debris, because someone was being an asshole on turn 3. It’s like fucking Mario Kart out there – Carmageddon – and creating a war zone seems somewhat unsportsmanlike.

You know how you’re not supposed to smoke near cameras or lenses or film? Well, there’s a lot of this movie that looks like someone ignored those “No Smoking” signs. Most of the outdoor scenes between characters are filmed through this kind of orange-ish, burnt looking filter that I *think* is supposed to give the illusion of the heat of the track on race day, but it just ends up obscuring any meaning the scenes themselves had. I’m always amazed by the effect such small things can have on how people view and understand movies.

DAYS OF THUNDER isn’t the worst movie in the world. It’s just not good in… well really any way. It’s impressively “meh,” and I have trouble forming a real opinion. It doesn’t really give you a real reason to care, and not even Robert Duvall’s performance can save the movie. It’s basically TOP GUN on the ground. Thinking about it, it’s got basically the same plot and hell, Tom Cruise even drives around on a fucking motorcycle.

I think I’ve got a problem with Tony Scott. It’s a sort of discomfort that’s hard to place. It’s not that I think he’s particularly bad (though he has put out some god awful flicks-anyone remember DOMINO?), it’s just that he hasn’t done anything I think is particularly good. He’s bigger then he should be for someone who hasn’t done anything that’s so great. Oh, yeah, people love TOP GUN, but let’s be honest – TOP GUN isn’t that great if you actually look at it. ENEMY OF THE STATE is pretty good. TRUE ROMANCE, too, and I’ll be the first to admit a certain affection for BEVERLY HILLS COP II. But any way you cut it he’s a pretty B-grade director. It might also be that he didn’t make MATCHSTICK MEN or BLADERUNNER, and I’m incredibly biased in stupid, stupid ways.

I think my main problem with NASCAR is that it’s not nearly as interesting as it’s pretending to be. You know what can be awesome? Drag racing. For the 3 seconds you can actually see those 30-foot phallic symbols rocket down the strip at 250 miles per hour, it can be pretty awesome. And then it’s over, and then there’s 2 totally new guys up in about 3 minutes. I even used to know a guy who raced quarter midgets (Basically $2000 go-karts with wind vanes on top), which is like watching 4 year olds race around an aisle in Wal-Mart that’s got a Wet Floor sign up. But I just can’t wrap my head around the enjoyment people have in NASCAR. Despite what they’ve done to make it crowd-friendly, racing is inherently not a good spectator sport because the competitors want to put as much distance between you and them as possible. Much like chess is an imitation of warfare between 2 kings, American race sports started when the Moonshine runners didn’t have to  get chased by the cops to get the distilled gasoline their pa made in the back shed down to the local speakeasy. Racing is entirely for the enjoyment of the racers – not for the crowd – and that’s why when you stop next to a guy at a red light in Asbury Park at 2 a.m. and he revs his engine at you, you know that shit is on.

Pretty much the only thing I really like about NASCAR is knowing that, if a race is going badly for me, I have the option to turn the car around and drive around the track backwards t0 end it for my friends by causing a head-on collision.



I will genuinely concede this to NASCAR though. It’s the only sport where every team competes in the same event, and is therefore much easier to follow. There you go. I gave it that.

Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up about 10 minutes from the kind of place with radio advertisements that would yell about how Billy Ray Gieger was going to jump his motor bike across 14 starving orphans on fire and that Joe Danger was going to strap a bomb to his chest and it was all going down on SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY instead of near a location where (arguably) real motorsports take place. But I guess that’s just my loss.

Favorite Part –The actual race scenes are the highlight of the flick, regardless of how little I understand the actual rules. You don’t have to suffer through the 3 hour ordeal of a race, just 3 minute chunks of the interesting bits.

Best Actor – Robert Duvall is actually very good in this movie. He pulls out an actual acting performance in a film full of phoned in, half-assed ones, and for that he stands out even more.

Most Thankful For… – John C. Reilly. He’s not in the movie for long. In fact I don’t think he has more than four lines, but seeing him in this movie was like watching a superhero movie and seeing some inside joke you caught because you know the comics.

What Date You Should Watch This On – Spare yourself the embarrassment. This isn’t a movie you want to submit someone else to. Watch FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Girls love that movie.

After Watching This Movie, I…  – went out and saw CYRUS. Awww, John C. Reilly. You’ve come so far.

While I was Writing This Article I… – was AWAKE. Remember how, in the PREDATOR Rewind, I said I had been awake for 45 hours? Yeah. That was kind of a lie. Now, this time? I’m not lying. Straight through. I think I’ve been up two days. I can’t be sure. After around the fourth Monster it all starts to run together. The life of an internet comedy writer would make a fascinating study on the outer limits of the human sleep cycle.

Recommend Watching? – Ehhh…..This is a hard one to sell after seeing the actual movie. Really, if you’ve seen TOP GUN, there’s no reason to watch DAYS OF THUNDER, and if you haven’t seen TOP GUN, you probably should so you can be in on the other half of the jokes on the internet. It’s a missable flick.

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