Last weekend, quite by accident, we ended up with an 80s movie extravaganza! There’s something about movies from that decade … they’re kind of unmistakable. The look and feel is similar no matter what you’re watching. In addition, I admit that I’m no film historian, but it seems to me that an awful lot of movies were made during the 80s, which means that the quality overall may have suffered a little. I know that most of us have a lot of fond memories of the decade, but I guess nostalgia is not a movie critic. Having said that …
Top Gun (1986)
Now, I know many of you are not going to like this very much, but it has to be said: Top Gun is not a good movie. It’s got some spiffy airplane scenes, and a totally rockin’ eighties soundtrack, sure. It also has next to no plot, mostly really lousy acting, and zero chemistry between its leads (I’m talking Cruise and McGillis, here. We won’t be getting into the overtones today). I know, I know, it’s a modern “classic” and all that. I think that is because it really did create a lot of cliches (my husband was surprised by how many lines he already knew, even though he’d never seen the movie before), and because it really embodies the spirit of the country during that decade. It’s all big and brash and loud and shallow and full of swagger.
I do actually think that Tom Cruise can deliver fine performances on occasion, but even the really good actors (ok, I’m mostly just referring to Val Kilmer) don’t seem to have very much to do here. Ultimately, I think what bothers me most about it is that it seriously has no plot. Again, it follows all of the tropes: talented but undisciplined lead gets his big shot, gets a training montage, gets taken down a peg, ends up a winner! But that’s not really a plot, people. That’s a theme that should be built into an actual story, but in the case of Top Gun, I think they forgot something. Sorry. You can go ahead and hate me now.
Chances Are (1989)
Another thing the eighties seem to have done a lot of is rom-coms. Again, the more of something you have, the more the quality overall is likely to suffer. A lot of the time, you just end up with a movie that’s really weird. See: Chances Are.
Alex Finch (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn’t know it, but he’s actually carrying around the departed soul of Louie Jeffries (Christopher McDonald), a young up-and-comer who is on top of the world when he gets hit by a car. He gets “reborn” immediately, but lies dormant for the next 23 years while Alex grows up, graduates from Yale, and heads to Washington, D.C. with dreams of being a journalist. Through an extremely coincidental set of circumstances, he finds himself on Louie’s doorstep, taken in by Louie’s best friend Phil (Ryan O’Neal), his widow Corinne (Cybill Shepherd), and his daughter, Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson), with whom Alex had a brief flirtation back at Yale only a day or two prior. Being “home” reawakens Louie’s spirit, and a comedy of errors ensues. Miranda is interested in Alex, but as soon as Louie takes over, he rebuffs his “daughter’s” advances and tries to convince his still-grieving widow that he’s returned to her. At the same time, Phil has been in love with Corinne this whole time, essentially helping her to raise Miranda, but has never revealed his feelings. Obviously, the mess has to be sorted out so that everyone can live happily ever after, or something.
Oy. Did you get all that? Seriously, this movie, while reasonably funny and charming, is mostly just strange, and sometimes a little bit squicky, given that while Downey and Shepherd have pretty good chemistry, there’s enough of an age difference to make their “romance” plenty awkward. Despite that, all of the actors acquit themselves admirably, and Downey gives us a solid performance, relying on his considerable charm and charisma to make Alex/Louie a sympathetic character. Additionally, the comedic aspects of the movie allow him to showcase his physical abilities, which I think often get overlooked. Other than that, the eighties fashions are awesomely retro, and even though you know how the story’s got to end, it’s interesting to watch them get there. I would definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of Robert Downey, Jr. and are interested in his earlier work, but other than that, there are probably better romantic comedies (even from the 80s) out there.
So, what did you watch this weekend? Any plans coming up? We’re hoping/planning to actually get out and see Moneyball soon, and have the next AFI film to look forward to as well. Wish us luck!