Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991) With barely enough first-rate movies under his belt to fill a half-page résumé (let's see, there's Diner and...well, that's about it), Mickey Rourke has already… R Action/Adventure Western Don Johnson Mickey Rourke Daniel Baldwin Tia Carrere Chelsea Field Giancarlo Esposito MGM
Movie Review

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)

MPAA Rating: R
EW's GRADE
C+

Details Rated: R; Genres: Action/Adventure, Western; With: Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke; Distributor: MGM

With barely enough first-rate movies under his belt to fill a half-page résumé (let's see, there's Diner and...well, that's about it), Mickey Rourke has already cut to the place Marlon Brando reached at the beginning of the '60s. He's become a parody of an actor — the mumbler as grandstander. To Rourke, movies are a goof, a chance to show up in some scuzzy new hairdo/costume/accent, flash his cupid's-bow grin at all the women on-screen, and take the money and run. He's like a rock star without a band — he wants to be the ultimate anti-glamour stud. Like Brando, though, Rourke has so much presence he just about gets away with treating his own films as a joke.

In the souped-up urban-Western potboiler Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Rourke plays Harley Davidson, a broken-down biker rebel with an earring, a huge gash of a scar, and a patchwork crew cut — it looks like somebody did his hair with a pair of hedge clippers — that makes him resemble an off-duty drag queen out of a Diane Arbus photograph. Rourke's complexion is slightly gray, and his smile is hesitant, wan, as if he were trying to cover up his capped teeth (are they part of his costume or a result of his recent boxing fixation?). Set in Los Angeles in 1996, the movie is about how Harley rides into town and teams up with his old friend Marlboro (Don Johnson), an aging cowboy. When the two learn that their favorite bar is about to go under — it seems the land has suddenly become valuable, due to the new airport down the block — they rip off the corrupt bank president who controls the lease.

The movie would like to be a punked-out Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (there's even a nod to the famous jumping-off-the-cliff scene). But that movie had a script; this one is just a kinetic formula shoot-'em-up. Still, it's engagingly junky entertainment with a healthy sense of its own ludicrousness. In a typical scene, Rourke and Johnson keep firing away at a quartet of glowering hit men in black bulletproof trench coats. Naturally, none of the bullets makes a dent — but why doesn't one of our fearless heroes think of aiming for their heads? Because then the scene would be over, and the director, Simon Wincer (Quigley Down Under), would have to fill the screen with something other than hyperbolic gunplay.

Johnson, his handsomeness neutered by a Colonel Sanders beard, has yet to register in movies the way he did on television. There's something too passive and hammy about his good-ol'-boy drawl. Rourke, on the other hand, keeps you off balance. Speaking in a druggy monotone, as if he could barely muster the energy to form consonants, he turns Harley into a cross between Brando the flake and Elmer Fudd; the joke of the character is that he's really just a teddy bear. It would be nice, of course, to see Mickey Rourke become a real actor again. But it's mostly his throwaway attitude toward his own career that makes Harley Davidson's lousiness seem fun instead of depressing. C+

Originally posted Aug 30, 1991 Published in issue #81 Aug 30, 1991 Order article reprints