Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke preen and posture on motorcycles and off in HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a futuristic action adventure that feels desperately like a vanity project.
Harley Davidson (Rourke), an honorable biker for whom cool is the key to life, is a drifter, one of those guys trouble follows. His buddy Marlboro (Johnson), a cowboy from Las Vegas, always seems to find himself hauled into Harley's wild and dangerous schemes. When Harley discovers that their
favorite bar is about to be forced out of business by greedy developers, he concocts a plan to rob a bank and use the money to buy them off. Needless to say, the heist goes wrong and Harley, Marlboro and their buddies find themselves in possession of millions of dollars worth of "crystal dream," a
dangerous new drug.
Harley and Marlboro try to keep from getting killed while they bargain with the high-level drug dealers whose merchandise they've accidentally stolen. Many bodies and much mayhem later, they save the bar and go their separate ways. Marlboro returns to the rodeo ring and Harley gets back on his
bike. When he sees a comely hitchhiker whose destination is "nowhere in particular," he offers her a ride.
HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN opens with a disclaimer that, in essence, assures audiences the film is more than just an extended endorsement for cigarettes and motorcycles; one can see why the casual viewer might need such a warning, especially since other characters bear such names as
"Virginia Slim" and (adding liquor to the mix) "Jack Daniels." It is, in fact, rather difficult to decide what HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN is. Its story is a simple variation on a tried-and-true action adventure theme: two devil-may-care buddies get together and raise some hell for a good
cause. Well and good. But for some odd reason, the story is set a few years in the future. This would naturally lead one to believe that it will have a science-fiction component, but no such thing develops. A casual reference by a radio announcer to the all-but-destroyed ozone layer prepares the
viewer for a dystopian future vision a la HIGHLANDER 2, but the action could just as well take place in the present-day US, so it's hard to figure out why the conceit is introduced at all.
It may seem petty to harp on the issue of characters' names, but the smirking cleverness of naming the characters after brands of cigarettes, alcohol and motorcycles is indicative of a larger issue: HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN plays like a relentless in joke, one designed to exclude all
but the participants. Rourke and Johnson aren't acting, if one understands that to mean creating fictional characters in a believable context. A kind interpretation of their posturing would be that Harley and Marlboro are meant to be self-referential iconic figures of American masculinity--the
cool biker dude and the clean-cut cowboy--but that suggests some academic purpose of which there is no additional evidence. Instead, the roles seem little more than an excuse for Rourke and Johnson to do themselves up in he-man drag. They strut and pose, do wheelies on their motorcycles and
brandish their guns with childish glee. It's true, of course, that all action adventure films are built on a phallic foundation of adolescent weapons-and-wheels worship. Where would Rambo or the Terminator be without the accessories? HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN is all about the
accessories; it's full of exhibitionistic fetishism with no apparent aesthetic, narrative or thematic purpose. As a disastrous multi-million dollar excuse for its stars to horse around, the film can't top the notorious HUDSON HAWK, starring Bruce Willis, but it's certainly in the running.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke preen and posture on motorcycles and off in HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a futuristic action adventure that feels desperately like a vanity project. Harley Davidson (Rourke), an honorable biker for whom cool is the… (more)