It's not cool for film critics to like Top Gun. After all, the movie represents Hollywood's exasperating preference for testosterone-heavy cliché-fests with frenzied editing and lowest-common-denominator rock soundtracks.
But here's the thing: I was 14 when Top Gun was released in 1986. I was the target audience for this overwrought overture-doubly so because my dad was in the Air Force and I loved fighter planes. Besides, if Top Gun is ultimately Hollywood blockbuster rubbish, it's glorious rubbish. And sometimes that's more fun than a genuinely good movie.
For those of you who were immune when it first came out, Top Gun stars Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete Mitchell, a gifted but rebellious Navy fighter pilot (or "aviator") better known by his call sign: "Maverick." His is one of several endearingly uninspired character nicknames in the film: "Cougar," "Joker," "Merlin" and so on.
After fearlessly playing cat-and-mouse with a Soviet fighter (actually a U.S. plane painted with a red star), Maverick attends San Diego's Top Gun training school for aerial dogfighting. Maverick is the son of a hero pilot in Vietnam who's been unjustly remembered by history as a screw-up due to the top-secret nature of his last mission. So as if flyboys weren't macho enough, Maverick's got something extra to prove. That is, of course, when our hero isn't bedding his flight instructor, played by gap-toothed-but-sexy blonde Kelly McGillis. Top Gun indeed.
Tragedy strikes at the end of the second act (leaving just enough time for redemption), and Maverick must again defend the free world against those pesky Russians-even if it means reconciling with his arch-rival, Tom "Iceman" Kazanski. (Iceman serves as the archetypal Val Kilmer-as-arrogant-asshole role).
Director Tony Scott films the action as if it were a Navy recruiting video fashioned by an MTV-video director on meth. Keeping up with the ever-changing frame distracts you from the dialogue, which consists of lines like, "I feel the need for speed!" and "You can be my wingman anytime!" As Quentin Tarantino pointed out during a cameo in Sleep with Me, you also have to wonder how much Scott was metaphorically presenting Top Gun as just one big homoerotic orgy. But regardless of how you decipher its title, this movie is a delicious cinematic Big Mac: a decadent treat once in awhile but certainly not recommended for daily consumption.
That said, the recently released two-disc "Special Collectors Edition" includes over five hours of special features, including music videos (including Kenny Loggins' dreadful theme song, "Danger Zone") a six-part behind-the-scenes documentary, and commentary by Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and even Naval air-combat experts. Damned if it doesn't "Take My Breath Away."