The White Shoe Irregular:
It was fun while it lasted.

In the Dark: Top Gun

Eric D. Snider

One of the unfortunate things about becoming a grownup is the new perspective you gain on life, which often results in disillusionment and pain. For example, the movie "Short Circuit." My brothers and I watched this on video a number of times back in 1986, when I was 12, and we loved it. Now that I've seen it as an adult, however, I realize that its premise — in which a robot inexplicably becomes a living, sentient being — is absurd both theologically and cinematically, and that the mere presence of Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens (whose vaguely foreign, malaproping character is the height of anti-humor) automatically dooms the film for failure. This is also true of the film's 1988 sequel, which I recall not liking even then.

Many people my age remember with fondness another 1986 film, a little thing called "Top Gun." I did not see this in theaters, nor did I see it on video upon its release, due to most of my time being occupied with the duties of being a nerd. It wasn't until I was 25 that I saw this movie, and I have to say that, despite so many of my peers' pleasant memories, "Top Gun" kinda sucks.

When I ask people why they like "Top Gun," I get one of two answers. The women say they like it because of the volleyball scene, in which the film's male stars dress in shorts and frolic in the sand. The men say they like it because of the airplanes.

I maintain that neither of these is reason enough to like a movie that contains as much hammy acting and as many unimaginative clichés and contrivances as this one does. Now, if the movie were about volleyball, I could see liking it because of a really good volleyball scene. But claiming a movie is good merely because it parades before you the tanned flesh of handsome actors bespeaks limited criteria in the film-analysis department. By that logic, one must insist that every pornographic film ever made is also "a good movie," a position you'd be hard pressed to find much support for outside of certain Internet websites and a few nightclubs in Los Angeles.

The argument that it's good because of all the neat jets is a little better, since the movie actually is about airplanes. But here I have to bring up the Inanimate Object Theorem: Any film that expects you to like it solely because of the inanimate objects it contains is not apt to be a good film. Would you watch a movie about lamps, or tablecloths, or Keanu Reeves? Of course not. No matter how much those items are catapulted around by means of Hollywood wizardry, they still are not living beings, capable of having personalities or gaining audience sympathies. In fact, in the case of Keanu Reeves, the audience may be moved to unfettered hatred.

The human stars in "Top Gun" include the cocky and arrogant Tom Cruise, playing a cocky and arrogant military pilot named Maverick. "Maverick" is a good name for this character (dictionary definition: "One that refuses to abide by the dictates of, or resists adherence to, a group"), and I heartily endorse the idea of movies giving their characters names that summarize their personalities, thus eliminating that pesky "character development" bugaboo that has plagued bad screenwriters for decades, and freeing up more time to show airplanes flying.

Maverick is a hotshot and a maverick, and all his mavericking almost destroys some government-owned planes, and those things aren't cheap, either, not like the crap Southwest puts up in the air. So to punish him, he is promoted and sent to the elite Top Gun academy, where only the finest (in other words, apparently, the most dangerous) pilots are allowed to go.

Maverick's partner is a guy named Goose ("Any of various wild or domesticated water birds of the family Anatidae"), who is the least-handsome male character, which means he will die. This he does, partly as a result of Maverick's maverickism, but perhaps also because of his own goose-like insistence on attempting to fly south for the winter but instead smashing his head on the roof of his own plane while trying to eject from it.

Goose's death is the only thing that happens in "Top Gun." Oh, sure, there are many other scenes in the movie — thousands of them, I think. But nothing can truly be said to be happening in any of them. The men fly airplanes. They play volleyball. They go to bars. There is thick sexual tension between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Maverick hits on the frigid, man-faced Kelly McGillis and eventually has PG-rated sex with her while the lead singer of '80s pop band Berlin encourages an unseen lover to take her breath away (which one hopes he will do before we have to listen to one more emotionless note emerge from her wretched glottis). All of this may pass the time and keep kids off the street, but it does not amount to a good movie.

I hate to crush fond childhood remembrances, but bear in mind that I've suffered, too. I just rewatched an old episode of "Who's the Boss?" Man, what were we thinking?