IN "DAYS of Thunder," driver Tom Cruise suddenly decides that stock car racing is a sport for brash, juvenile egomaniacs. So he turns his back on the Daytona 500 just minutes before the race is due to start, tells girlfriend Nicole Kidman he never was interested in women and intentionally rides a motorbike off a cliff to his tragic death.
So much for my version.
In Paramount's movie, which stars Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Michael Rooker and Kidman, things obviously end up much more triumphantly, with the appropriate barrage of macho-MTV images and blaring, youth-adulatory music. This movie, if nothing else, is loud: Whizzz! Vrooom! Nyeoooow! as those high-performance cars fly past the camera. Cut to racing fans in the stands waving their arms like addled sun worshipers. Cut to flavor-boy Cruise in the racing cockpit. Zip over to Cruise's speedway Svengali Duvall, wise-jawing into the two-way radio advice like "He's coming up behind you," or "Don't go on the outside." Then whizzz! Vrooom! Nyeoooow! You get the idea.
Essentially an encore from the "Top Gun" team, director Tony Scott's "Thunder" is exactly what it promises to be: Not Much -- but at dizzying speed, stripped down and free of wind-resistant subtlety. There's a certain integrity to that. A certain deafening integrity. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, two of Hollywood's more successful antichrists of taste, should be congratulated -- and they will be. Watch those box-office receipts pile up.
They (and Paramount) also should be congratulated for having the temporary insight to hire scriptwriter Robert Towne. The man who gave us great work such as "The Last Detail," "Chinatown" and "Personal Best" takes the high-thrills genre, checks its oil, tweaks its engine and fuel-injects it with humor, requisite romancing (between Cruise and brain doc Kidman) and machismo allegory.
He creates, for example, an intentionally ludicrous (and amusing) "Ben Hur"-like charioteer rivalry between Cruise and chief speed-freak rival Rooker: Even after their fierce circuit rivalry has sent them bruised and dazed to the hospital, they continue to race each other down hospital corridors in wheelchairs and later, in rented cars.
Towne also makes "Thunder" a rides of passage for hot-rod disciple Cruise, with Duvall (always a master, no matter what dross he's in) supplying the Zen-like wisdom. ("Tires," Duvall tells The Cruise, "is what win a race.") And it must also be Towne who makes Kidman actually call Cruise, yes, an infantile egomaniac. You gotta love him for that alone. DAYS OF THUNDER (PG-13) --