This paean to hotshot Navy fighter pilots and high technology attracted mass audiences despite its familiar plot and characters so vapid they vanish from memory as soon as the house lights come up. Brash young pilot Lt. Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), nicknamed "Maverick" for his

individualistic flying style, is sent to Miramar Naval Air Station, where he trains with the country's best fighter pilots. The best student from each class wins the prized "Top Gun" award, and the privilege of remaining at Miramar as an instructor. Maverick's chief competition is Tom Kasanzky

(Val Kilmer), nicknamed "Ice Man," and eventually an international incident arises that allows the pilots to prove themselves. In an unlikely subplot, Maverick has an affair with Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), a civilian expert on the physics of high-speed jet performance.

What TOP GUN contributes to the genre is an increased emphasis on military hardware and an almost homoerotic attraction for male bodies, mostly sweaty ones. In the final analysis, though, everything that happens on the ground is irrelevant to the real heart of the film, the flying sequences. Much

praised, the airborne footage seamlessly intercuts live action shots of planes with special effects models. But for all the skill of their execution, the flying scenes are often confusing, rarely giving any idea of where the planes are in relation to one another. Jets streak by and pilots spin

their heads around yelling, "Where'd he go? Where'd he go?" until the beepers aboard their planes tell them they've been shot down. Ultimately, TOP GUN is a facile movie in which Americans kill Russians with aplomb--proving their inherent superiority--and Tom Cruise gets the girl.