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‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 23, 1991


Simon Wincer
Mickey Rourke;
Don Johnson;
Chelsea Field;
Giancarlo Esposito;
Vanessa Williams;
Julius W. Harris;
Robert Ginty
violence, language, nudity and sensuality

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The ads for "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" proclaim it, in bold type, as the "Summer's Last Blast," and it feels like the last of something. Every summer, I suppose, gets the wrap party it deserves.

The picture stars Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson as Harley and Marlboro, a biker and a cowboy who grew up, so to speak, in a neighborhood bar that's being gouged into extinction by greedy bankers. That's right, it's an endangered-species movie, with Harley and Marlboro as the rescuing angels. Their plan is to rob the bank -- the same bank that's raised the rent -- of $2.5 million to pay the inflated tab and keep their beloved hangout in business. Piece of cake, especially for guys as hard as these.

There's a hitch, though. The bank traffics illegally in a deadly new hallucinogen called "the dream," and when the boys and their gang knock over the armored car it's the drug and not cash that they steal. (Did I mention that the action is set in the future? It's easy to forget since it has no bearing whatsoever in the story except to make the heroes appear all the more anachronistic.) The bankers' hired thugs, who are extremely well turned out, want their dope back. The boys, having no use for it, arrange a switch -- $2.5 million for the stash. Again, what could be simpler? But somehow these deals never work out, and a lot of Harley and Marlboro's friends get dead.

It's too bad that the stars, both of whom look as if they just crawled out of an ashtray, get all the breaks bullet-wise, because they're the least interesting people on screen. This is about as absurd a pairing as you're ever likely to see, but then again any combination that includes Mickey Rourke verges on the surreal. Rourke can be a mesmerizing presence onscreen, but as the saying goes, he does not work well with others. Here, Rourke -- whose grease factor is at low ebb because of a fetching buzz cut -- seems to have walled himself off in a world all his own. The performance he gives is very low-energy, as if he expected his garish leathers and the exaggerated scar on his cheek to do all his acting for him.

Still, Rourke is manic compared with Johnson, who wears a cowboy hat and contributes little more than a scuzzy variation on his character from "Miami Vice." There are some attempts to provide buddy-tough, "Lethal Weapon"-style banter between the two stars, and Johnson, who seems more comfortable handling the comedy, usually gets the better of these scenes. He does it by sheer insouciance; at least he hasn't deluded himself into taking this material seriously.

Macho posturing is what this Simon Wincer film is all about. The comradery between the heroes surpasses everything; they're deeper than blood brothers, so much so, in fact, that you half expect them to cuddle up under the comforter together at night. When they part ways at picture's end, Marlboro's parting words are "Vaya con Dios," which translates as "Go with God." I'd put it differently. Go, the both of you. With God or without, but by all means, go.

"Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" is rated R for violence, language, nudity and sensuality.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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