Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Sick on fumes
Simon Wincer
Mickey Rourke, Don Johnson, Chelsea Field, Big John Studd
The Setup: 
In a near future, two ludicrous figures rob a bank to save a nightclub.

Every now and then I like to watch a movie set among the world of real macho dudes, and knowledge of this bizarre-looking little film has been tucked into some corner of my brain since it was out. I turned off Young Doctors in Love after 20 minutes to switch to this, for the simple reason that I didn’t know exactly what would happen in this movie, whereas the other could be entirely predicted from the first moments. It’s true, I didn’t know what surprises this movie held in store, but it’s also true that I could never have imagined how overwhelmingly stupid they would all be.

We open with a Burbank radio station providing some exposition. The city has built an international airport in Burbank, and this has rapidly gentrified the entire area. The ozone layer is fucked [no news there] and there’s a new, lethal drug sweeping the streets, Crystal Dream. Sound like any other highly addictive drug you know of? Anyway, blink and you’ll miss the fact that this movie is set in the NEAR-FUTURE! That’s right, bitches! This is SPECULATIVE SCIENCE FICTION!!! They never exactly say the year, but the DJ says it’s America’s 220th birthday [it’s July 4th], so counting from 1776, that would be 1996—a mere five years from when the movie was made. WHY would they do this? Well, as an extremely lazy way to introduce any imaginary drug or change in city zoning that they feel like, without really having to integrate them into a realistic story. Woo-hoo, it all happens in FAIRYLAND!!!

We see Mickey Rourke as Harley Davidson [we’ll call him HD] waking and slowly donning his leather gear as a woman, destroyed by the wanton passion of their just-completed pleasure pounding, lies sensuously on the bed. You see, HD is a STUD. That is something that must be understood, right up front. He gets on his Harley, which also receives much loving coverage, and heads out on the open highway while some song by Guns n’ Roses plays and we have our credits.

During these credits we discover that this movie functioned as sort of a drain trap for cinematic detritus on the quick slide into oblivion. Not only our leads, but Vanessa Williams [the Miss America one], Tia Carrerre, someone named Big John Studd [I think he may have been a pro wrestler], Chelsea Field, Daniel Baldwin, and, as you might guess, Tom Sizemore. Chelsea Field is not a place on the West side of Manhattan where one might play softball, but an actress, and one who made an indelible impression in the haunted prison flick Prison. I wouldn’t have remembered her at all if it weren’t for mere shock that someone would put her in one movie, let alone two, AND... [please prepare yourself] the fact that she is a former SOLID GOLD DANCER!

So HD stops at the gas station and stops a robbery in progress—because not only is he a badass stud, he is a GOOD MAN—then continues to some biker bar, where Don Johnson as the Marlboro Man [MM] is sanctimoniously beating some huge Native American at pool. Then follows a bar brawl, so we can understand that the MM is a badass. Please understand that. They repair to sit atop a billboard to have a theological discussion [you know; “Hey man, do you ever think there might be, you know, something MORE?”]. We learn that it is the MM’s birthday, and we start to think “Oh I get it, this is going to be one of those things about the passing of the real spirit of manhood,” which is confirmed a second later when the MM salutes a statue of John Wayne. You see, it’s like The Wild Bunch, only impossibly shitty.

They then repair to the same bar where Vanessa Williams in trying to make her way through “What Will I Tell My Heart,” and she is AWFUL! I remember hearing her records and thinking she wasn’t bad. Well, maybe she’s just not that great at jazz—uh, but no, as we find out as she honks through a few more songs.

Okay, so surely with all this testosterone oozing from every little oozy-place, surely we’re going to start kicking with the homoeroticism, right? It would seem. HD and the MM walk into this room where this huge bearded dude whose role is assuaged by Big John Studd [BJS] is downing whiskey and then handily winning an arm-wrestling contest. He becomes enraged at the sight of HD, because HD banged his woman [that’s Vanessa, btw] because HD is a STUD. So they have a brawl, where he throws HD out a window to land NECK-FIRST in a convertible, then he jumps down ON to HD, and starts beating the living shit out of him. It is BRUTAL—but of course, HD is totally fine just after. HD, you see, is one tough MF. HD tells BJS that Vanessa loved him, even as HD was ridin’ the road, and BJS pulls him tenderly, lovingly to him.

Okay, so it’s around 30 minutes—time for a PLOT! You see, because of the recent socioeconomic changes that have transformed the town, the bar is going to be repossessed unless the bar owner can come up with 2.5 million dollars for a 5-year lease. HD decides that they will steal the money from the very bank threatening to foreclose on the bar, and calls on the other guys to form a team to help. And guess what? They agree!

So they handily hold up this armored truck, but then these guys in bulletproof leather trenchcoats show up [it’s the near future—anything can happen!], forcing our heroes to effect a narrow escape. Once back to their camp at the airplane junkyard, they unpack their loot and discover that they have inadvertently stolen a shipment of Crystal Dream! So wow, they’re fucked.

The MM then gives this motorcycle cop the finger and they have this high-speed chase, then it turns out this is all just foreplay, because the cop is a woman and she and the MM engage in this thing regularly, apparently. Her name, by the way, is Virginia Slim. She is marrying someone else because the MM just can’t commit, which makes him take a good hard look at… whatever, and she says that she’s jealous of his relationship with HD, homoerotic touch #429. Anyway, this shit is just starting to get too tedious and idiotic, so around this point I started fast-forwarding through the rest.

They set up an exchange with the drug dealers, which is performed handily, and it was around this time the thought occurred to me: Wait a minute, the 2.5 million will only cover rent for the first five years. What are they going to do after that? Steal another 2.5 million? Likely the price will have gone up by then. I don’t think these guys are really thinking in the long term.

I wouldn’t dare spoil the many moronic twists and turns that make up the last half of the movie, and not just because I FF’ed through most of them, no—also because I can’t even be bothered to write that shit out. It continues every bit as senseless as what’s come before. Honestly, I can’t fathom what went through anyone’s mind when they were making this. What purpose does this story serve? Of course I know, the whole point is solely to make money, but—don’t you want to make something even barely passable, if only to keep yourself interested? If not to avoid embarrassment? This movie bears so little relationship to reality that it has no meaning to anyone who might watch it, and yet has enough relation to reality to keep it from having value as an amusing flight of fancy.

I had hoped this might be ludicrously over-the-top in a fun way, like Torque, but it just turned out to be a reason for the actors to try to act really, really macho. This is the kind of movie that makes you feel sad for everyone involved. I’m sorry, guys, I’m really, really sorry this had to happen to you.

I think an interesting sociological study could be done on the people who want to watch this movie—especially at this point. Of course, I guess we’d have to count me in that test group.

Should you watch it: 

You'd have to be pretty desperate.


This movie always seemed to me to be someone's RPG campaign written up as a story, the way the Dragonlance books were done. I could easily see this being, like, Cyberpunk 2020 or something.

PS if I recall right, the insanely-expensive gas in tbis nightmare future dystopia sold for...three-fifty a gallon :D