Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man (1991)

February 24, 2012

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

This one I watched in the theater during its initial release, together with a very good friend of mine. Not Michael from England this time though, but another good friend. I remember walking out of the theater thinking: “Damn, this was actually pretty good!” It’s a straight-forward action movie with a double-helping of clichés and a side-order of male bonding. (Wow! That description was a cliché in itself, huh?) Many of the characters are named after well-known products, which is kind of cool, because it suits the story.

So… we have Harley, the prodigal son, returning home to L.A. after having been away for a couple of years. He’s played by Mickey Rourke (Diner, Angel Heart, Johnny Handsome) and is the brooding biker-type. He meets up with his friend Marlboro, played by Don Johnson (The Hot Spot, Tin Cup, Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) who’s an old rodeo cowboy. He’s quit smoking, but still walks around with an unlit cigarette in the corner of his mouth because… well, c’mon… he’s the Marlboro Man.

Waiting for the men in black!

Waiting for the men in black!

They’re two old friends who has known each other all their lives, so the conversation kind of takes off from where they left it a couple of years ago. It’s like no time has passed! I can actually relate to that aspect better now than I could when I first watched it. Some of my oldest and best friends don’t live in Sweden anymore, Patrik lives in U.S.A. and Michael in England, so we naturally don’t see each other as often as we used to, but when we do, it’s like that… We just pick up where we left it the last time we met or talked.

Harley and Marlboro rejoin some old friends at their favorite hang-out, the “Rock’n’Roll Bar & Grill”, owned by the “Old Man”. He’s kind of like a father-figure to them all and has kept them out of the gutter since they were kids. He’s played by Julius Harris (Tee Hee from Live and Let Die). He’s about to lose the place to the Great Trust Bank unless he can come up with 2.5 million dollars for a new lease.

Not your average bank-tellers.

Not your average bank-tellers.

Harley does not accept this and comes up with a plan to help him out and asks his friends if they’re in on it. Since the plan involves robbing the bank for the cash, Marlboro thinks he’s crazy, but reluctantly agrees to help. And so does the rest of the guys, the mute Jose Cuervo (Eloy Casados), Jimmy Jiles (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jack Daniels (former wrestler Big John Studd). See what I mean with the names? Ok, so Jimmy is not named after a product, supposedly it’s after Jimi Hendrix because of the slight resemblance.

Actually Jack says no at first because of his bossy wife Lulu (cameo by Vanessa Williams) whom Harley has had an affair with before. So when Jack first sees Harley again he’s royally pissed off and wants to kill him. This matter is settled with a little fisticuffs and a hug. They are, after all, childhood friends!

Marlboro and Harley ride out.

Marlboro and Harley ride out.

The gang end up robbing an armored truck and this is where things start to go bad. It’s where they first encounter the bank’s hit squad (?) and discover that the loot they get away with is not money. It’s a deadly drug known as Crystal Dream and the bank manager Chance Wilder, played by Tom Sizemore, is real keen on getting it back. Oh, and he also wants the guys dead, of course!

Since they in turn don’t want anything to do with drugs, they set up a deal where they are to exchange the drugs for the 2.5 million dollars. After that meeting things turn real ugly!

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is a movie that borrows shamelessly from other movies and the dialogue is… Well, let’s just say that the characters all seem to be talking in clichés. But you know what? It works! At least in my opinion! And yes, I know it’s not the best movie ever made. And yes, I know the story could probably fit on one sheet of toilet-paper. And YES, I know it bombed at the box-office, but dammit… I like it! I like the characters Harley and Marlboro, and the way they talk to each other. That’s where the comedy comes in.

Can't we all just get along?

Can’t we all just get along?

One running joke through the movie is that Harley can’t handle a gun, much less hit anything with it. He’s so bad a shot that he couldn’t even hit a barn! From the inside! At one point he actually hits Marlboro instead of the bad guy, much to the amusement of said bad guy. Marlboro is none too pleased though! “You shot me Harley!” And then he hits Harley with his cowboy-hat. “You f**king shot me! I can’t believe you shot me!” Harley just shrugs his shoulders!

By the way? The leader of the hit squad, Alexander, is played by Alec Baldwin, and Marlboro’s on/off girlfriend is played by the lovely Chelsea Field. Her name? It’s Virginia Slim! Yup, more brand names!

Tia Carrere makes a small appearance as Mr. Wilder’s assistant and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old pal from Denmark, Sven Ole Thorsen, is one of the hit men. If you, like me, watch a lot of action-movies from the 80’s, you might recognize the guy playing the helicopter-pilot… Hell yeah, it’s Robert “The Exterminator” Ginty! No? Never heard of him? Oh well, I’ll get back to that one later!

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is certainly not Oscar-material and a lot of people disliked it, even Mr. Rourke apparently, but it really isn’t that bad, you know? Why not give it a shot? And to hit anything just remember to, as Marlboro points out, “Squeeze the trigger, don’t yank it! It’s not your d***”

Until next time my friends…


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