"TOP GUN," short on talk, long on dogfights, brings back the flyboy at his tower-buzzing best. Tom Cruise, with all the right stuff in all the right places, stars as a hotshot jet pilot who bucks the standard operating procedures in this man's Navy. Naturally, the Navy means to turn him into a team player.
"Top Gun" is basically "An Officer and a Gentleman" with less spirit and depth. But it's still fine formula movie-making -- like a feature-length "Be All That You Can Be" commercial. It's got lots of loud music, hot colors, heat-seeking missiles and other pointed objects. Real men squint into the radar's gleam below deck, while real men hunt MiGs upstairs.
Only the best of these make it to Top Gun, a military grad school for the sharpest shooters. Nicknamed "Fightertown U.S.A.," it becomes a proving ground for Cruise as Maverick, whose seat-of-the-pants flying style scores hits but endangers the rest of the wing. Standing between Maverick and top honors is his rival, the by-the-book Ice Man, with Val Kilmer in this refreshingly honorable role. Tom Skerritt also stars as a caring CO, with Kelly McGillis as the astrophysicist who loves Maverick and Anthony Edwards as Maverick's easygoing radar intercept officer.
"Top Gun," gets under way without a wasted moment of character development, as the jets scramble off the bucking flight deck of a carrier. They've got bogeys in the wild blue yonder, MiGs upstairs. And a dizzying, high-speed mission of F-14 Tomcat and mouse ensues.
You don't have to love war-mongering, missiles or shooting down MiGs to appreciate the scenery in this young males' fantasy. Cruise, paired with the magnificent McGillis for his love scenes, is a sight in himself. It's the standard stuff, except that they kiss as if they were attempting tonsillectomies.
Hunk watchers will probably prefer the many locker room scenes in which Cruise and the other square-jawed types cavort in their towels and skivvies.
The hero may not have furthered his acting career here, but he is on the verge of becoming the most likable man's man since Clark Gable. And McGillis acquits herself with dignity, which is no mean feat when you're the sex object.
The script is tidy, with its pat relationships and predictable sky jinks. Surprisingly, it's directed without a lot of visual imagination by Tony Scott, who makes dazzling commercials with brother Ridley Scott. It's like a high-flying, g-pulling video, impressively speedy but hard to follow. Since the actors wear oxygen masks in flight, their reactions are lost along with the human drama.
The movie's major problem is that it's a war movie without a war. Nonetheless, it's a heroic and dashing work of derring-do. And besides, wouldn't you sit through a little posturing and pro-militarism to watch Tom Cruise?
TOP GUN (PG) -- This movie opens Monday at area theaters.