Everything you need to know about Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is right there in the title. Our dynamic duo will be riding bikes, smoking, drinking, and fighting but above all, they will be doing it all together. This is a very easygoing and engaging movie with a lot of humor and charm. The soundtrack perfectly matches what’s going on and adds another layer of coolness to the whole thing.
As it usually happens, one movie leads me to another and before I know it, I’m down the rabbit hole. This time going through action movies I grew up with. And this is one of them. Considering just how much testosterone and old-school machismo is here, I wonder how did I not end up more fucked up, but more about that later.
After I first saw Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, I loved the movie so much that I spent days drawing what I considered the best parts of the movie. I don’t know where that picture is now but I can clearly remember how it looked like. It featured a bunch of bad guys in vinyl coats coming down the rope from a helicopter all the while shooting at our guys who are riding away on their bikes.
And that’s the thing about this movie, it has so many memorable and engaging scenes. Like those bad guys with their Steyr Augs, the weapon of choice of the futuristic eighties movies. It’s also one of the last biker movies after two decades of various productions. Easy Rider was an incredibly influential cult classic and it spawned a whole new subgenre. However, it’s much more serious than this late eighties/early nineties extravaganza.
Above all, this is a feel-good action movie with a tight script and charmingly doomed characters. They couldn’t have picked better guys for the lead roles in Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson. The two of them were basically playing themselves and had palpable onscreen chemistry. When you’re making a movie with this title you simply know it cannot be serious.
So, that’s what they did, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and the result is this amazingly compelling movie. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a masterpiece or even a good movie. It’s a definition of a guilty pleasure. It’s nostalgia for a time when men were real alpha men engaged in every possible bad habit. For a time when you didn’t talk about your emotions and all the other toxic masculinity thing you can think of.
Harley Davidson is on his way to Rock N’ Roll Bar & Grille to see his old buddy Marlboro Man after several years. The two of them are outlaws and troublemakers, riding their bikes into the sunset and doing what rugged men do. When they meet up with the bar owner he tells them that the Great Trust bank is looking to close it. So, they hatch a plan to rob one of their transport vans and use the money to help their friend.
However, once they open the door of the van they see that it’s not transporting money but drugs! Soon, a bunch of heavily armored and armed guards show up and start shooting at them. Harley and Marlboro realize that this is going to be much more dangerous than they initially thought.
And while the movie did borrow a lot from other buddy movies of the eighties, it also has a couple of really creative and original concepts. Some of them will even make it to possibly the most important movie of that decade: Matrix. Apart from our two leads we also have the opportunity to see young Giancarlo Esposito and Tom Sizemore. With a steady pace and formulaic plot, this is one of those movies that you can drink to. Not to mention smoke something.
The atmosphere is vibrant and exciting and we will be visiting a lot of cool locations. From biker bars to airplane graveyards, each scene feels authentic and somehow cool. And the same goes for almost every other aspect of this movie. Right down to many quotable lines like the famous one: It’s Better To Be Dead And Cool Than Alive And Uncool!
This is also a farewell ode to a different type of man. Men who were tough, rugged, and macho. A perfect representation of an old system of values and how it defined the role of a man. A cool man, if I might add. It also defines the perfect male friendship, the one where you don’t see each other for years but are still close to each other just as you were the first day. Ahhh, it’s so easy to step into these predefined templates of behavior and just live by them. Sure, they’re detrimental to your not just mental but also physical health. But hey, when did smoking, drinking, fighting and dangerous behavior in general ever hurt anyone? Don’t make me quote that line about coolness again.
I was brought on this type of stuff. The opening scene alone tells you just what we’re dealing with here. A guy is broodingly looking through the window into the night and smoking a cigarette while the woman he just had sex with lays naked in bed. Everybody else seems to be having fun but him. It’s that brooding, nihilism and hedonism combined that’s so hard to get rid of. And I don’t think I will be ever able to. And I’m not sure that on some much deeper level I can. Or even want. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with this type of whatever you want to call it. However, life is so fucked up and without any not just solid but right answers that it’s difficult to pass judgement. Just relax and enjoy the ride. Ride to nowhere special.
Finally, if you’re looking for more biker movies you can check out Beyond the Law that came out just a couple of years later along with the 2008 Hell Ride.
Director: Simon Wincer
Writer: Don Michael Paul
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Don Johnson, Chelsea Field, Giancarlo Esposito, Daniel Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Tia Carrere
Fun Facts: The aircraft boneyard featured in one of the shootouts is the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base located in Arizona, and consists of over 2600 acres.