I was just a little tyke when Days of Thunder opened in June of 1990, still vroom-vrooming toy cars on the beige carpet of my parents’ living room and in need of an occasional diaper change. That description also fits director Tony Scott’s film, which routinely resembles what would happen if a dozen dudes who like to slug cheap beer and talk about engine pistons were given $60 million to make a masturbatory fantasy about stock car racing. However, to say Days of Thunder is about anything more than ego tripping gives Scott and screenwriter Robert Towne too much credit. Towne frontloads the script with endless racing jargon and Scott’s got his trusty filter collection on his right hip, drawing monochromatic reds, blues, and greens as fast as thunder, er, lightning, which muffles and masks the film’s core, male melodrama.
The American flag. The Confederate flag. The Pepsi flag. All fly at full mast during the film’s opening credits through a succession of shots that would function as auto-critique of national-cum-corporate exploitation were they not part and parcel with producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s own, still freshly minted brand of hyper-capitalist blockbuster cinema. Bruckheimer’s corporate circle-jerking is even fluidly integrated into Towne’s script: When Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) explains his orientation to racing, he mentions how “the coverage on ESPN is excellent.” Cruise’s boyish bravado naturalizes the rep, another tacit formation of the Bruckheimer mold, where charisma compliments commerce and obfuscates insidious dealings in conglomerate mitosis.