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Daren in Brief - GOOD BAD MOVIES
by Daren Foster

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TOP GUNDaren in Brief
Good Bad Movies

by Daren Foster

This past weekend, the impossible became possible. An event so unlikely that I never imagined I would witness it during my lifetime. (And if not then, when, I ask metaphysically.) The ground shifted beneath my feet as if two suns had appeared upon the horizon.

The momentous event in question? Top Gun’s ascension to the top of My All Time, Favourite Bad Movie list. In besting Dirty Dancing, Top Gun established a new high in cinematic lows, out cheesing, out groan inducing, out derisive laugh making the longtime reigning champion which had held the number one spot almost from the time it was first released in 1987.

What differentiates a good bad movie from just a plain old, flat out shitty movie? Admittedly it is a subjective standard and the scoring is more arbitrary and oblique than that of figure skating but the critical point is that you want to watch good bad movies just as often as you do great movies. You revel in the earnestly bad acting. You commit to memory god awful dialogue. (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!!”) You marvel that anybody took the film in question at all seriously. Good bad movies invariably end up being made into stage musicals that, in defying both irony and common sense, are eventually made back into a movie.

Good bad movies will have as big (if not bigger) a devoted fan base that loves the film unconditionally as those that love it because it is so bad. The two groups despise one another and are incapable of having a civil exchange about anything and, most certainly not that particular movie. One fan base loves the movie. The other loves hating the movie.

What particular qualities does Top Gun possess that has made it my #1 good bad movie? Well, first it has Tom Cruise at his acting worst. He ran the gamut of emotions from anger to brash with a carefully modulated two step process: cocky, smile and angry, clenched jaw. A perfect minimalist approach that deftly masks the fact his performance is even worse than the material he was working with. There was also flashes of appealing oddness in Val Kilmer’s performance that was a harbinger of things to come later in his career. You got the sense that Kilmer fully comprehended how bad a movie Top Gun was and gave a suitably corny performance to match while Cruise thought he just might be doing Hamlet.

To be fair to Tom, the script was truly, astoundingly and deeply bad. It is a template for everything that went wrong with Hollywood in the 80s. Top Gun played out with the depth and vision of an extended play music video which were all the rage back then. Helmed by commercial hack, Tony Scott, the movie lurched awkwardly from set piece to set piece with no logical sense of story progression beside male bonding, male bonding, flight sequence, male bonding, romantic interest, male bonding, flight sequence. Repeat as necessary but you can never have too many flight sequences.

For me, the scene that stands out best in displaying Top Gun’s at its most lovably trite is when Tom Cruise’s Maverick puts the moves on Kelly McGillis’s Charlie and is seemingly rebuffed. When his competitor, Slider, mockingly nosedives a model airplane he’s holding and points out that Maverick crashed and burned with the lady, Cruise leans in toward Slider and sniffs hard. His response? Hey, Slider. You stink. How old are you guys anyway, like eight?

My only reservation in designating Top Gun My Most Favourite Good Bad Movie is that it all seems too calculated. Whereas you get the feeling with Dirty Dancing that there was a genuine effort made to harken back to an innocent, largely fictitious, pre-JFK assassination time that wildly missed the mark, Top Gun was methodically constructed to mindlessly wallow in the unthinking, chest-thumping, macho militarism of America’s Reagan era. Even the blatant homoeroticism at work in the movie comes across as a mere marketing ploy to pull in a demographic that might not be otherwise inclined to see an empty-headed boys with toys movie. How else to explain the endless volleyball game? Something both straight women and gay men will love!

It’s a tough call, and a list like this is forever fluid. Matters with such vital implications should never be settled ad hoc, willy-nilly. It takes time and many viewings to make sure you get things just right. A dirty, thankless job but somebody’s got to do it.

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