A study in the purification of American moviemaking into something preordained for success. This shiny great Hollywood machine is built of matchless commercial rivets: Tom Cruse, risen into the zenith of his stardom; the sharp instincts of producers Don Simpson (who takes a cameo) and Jerry Bruckheimer; a concept fusing the brash machsimo of Top Gun and the pupil-mentor tutelage of The Color Of Money; and the preternatural good looks of Tony Scott’s filmmaking applied to the grunt and muscle of Nascar racing.
It is a movie designed within an inch its life, failure was not an option. That it does fail, so awfully, is also unwittingly written into its very DNA. There was no room to breath inside the brusque deliberateness of its execution. It is a film so thought out, so measured in its shallowness, that it is totally incapable of surprising anyone.
Tom Cruise, who had been pushing away from the template that was making him massive — this petulant youth with father issues, a hot head coasting on charm — through the rank desperation of Born On The Fourth Of July and the testing ground of Rain Man, but this was a stumble back into the unbending straits of formula. Chalk them up: the brash youth (his good self) who must learn to tame himself to succeed; the wise mentor (Robert Duvall) who must impart the legend; the strong female love interest (Nicole Kidman) who nudges the emotion to the surface; the rival as friend (Michael Rooker); the indigestible winner-ethos, where only victory can complete the journey.
There is no doubting the technical skill in putting this construction together, but it bares no trace of romance or heart or basic humanity. Just listen to the syllabic nonsense of the names: Cole Trickle, Harry Hogge, Clare Lewinski; they have the preformed rhythms of a scriptwriter’s smug invention. Every motion, from the clamour of the racetrack to the sparring of teacher and pupil, has been worked out for audience satisfaction and grants none. This is not a real film, it is an automaton, a pod-movie, and, thankfully, proved the death nail for such high-concept filmmaking.