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TOP GUN

            

From the May 16, 1986, Deseret News

TOP GUN — Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards; rated PG (violence, sex, profanity, vulgarity).

"Top Gun" is a summer film in the expected form, a wild visceral ride – especially in 70mm, as it is playing in the Centre and Villa theaters. This is as old-fashioned as they come, a John Wayne military shoot-‘em-up in the sky, with aerial dogfights that are genuinely thrilling.

On the ground, however, "Top Gun" misfires. Or crash-lands. You can provide your own metaphor. The problem is an unconvincing romance and overly contrived plotting, apparently aiming for the audience that made "An Officer and a Gentleman" a hit.

Technically, the film is a knockout. Perhaps that should come as no surprise since it is directed by Tony Scott — Ridley's brother — who has shown his stunning visual expertise in numerous commercials and the glitzy vampire thriller "The Hunger."

But like "The Hunger," "Top Gun" can't seem to get its act together dramatically. Even the editing occasionally gets in the way, with so many shots shown in such rapid succession that who's doing what to whom is sometimes a bit hard to follow.

Scott has assembled an excellent cast, however, and they all do quite well with what they have to work from.

        

        Val Kilmer, left, shakes hands with Tom Cruise in a scene from 'Top Gun'

Tom Cruise – who last starred in brother Ridley's "Legend," another visual knockout/dramatic fizzle — here plays a grown-up for a change, a 25-year-old hotshot pilot with some psychological hang-ups. The most prominent is a mystery about his late father — also a hotshot pilot — that hangs over him. Predictably, that mystery is cleared up just in time to make him a hero.

Cruise is one of a select group of F-14 fighter pilots assigned to San Diego's Miramar Naval Air Station, the Navy's Fighter Weapons School. The school is nicknamed "Top Gun" because only the best of the best are accepted, then trained to become better.

Tom Skerritt and Michael Ironsides are in charge, pushing the pilots to the limit of their training, and Cruise — appropriately nicknamed "Maverick" — is the wild card in the bunch. He, of course, clashes with the No. 1 pilot in the group, a by-the-book officer (Val Kilmer). Anthony Edwards is also quite good as Cruise's best friend.

To intrusively introduce a romance, Kelly McGillis plays a civilian instructor at the school who says she never dates students, but falls in love with Cruise anyway.

And since the United States is not involved in any actual war right now, a dogfight over the Indian Ocean is "us" against a rather vague "them" — planes piloted, we are led to assume, by Russians, though the Soviet government refuses to acknowledge their existence. The entire exercise is just an excuse to get in some patriotic violence.

         

     Meg Ryan, here with Tom Cruise, had one of her earliest film roles in 'Top Gun.'

The worst excess in "Top Gun" is its wrong-headed emphasis on a mediocre romantic subplot, which takes up at least 50 percent of the film. As a result, the real story sometimes gets short shrift.

But when Scott takes his film to the air, all is forgiven.

Despite its weaknesses, the excellent performances of the entire cast and the sense of fun that is pervasive throughout the film, make it palatable. And there's little question that the time is right for American heroes fighting for right. Don't think about it; just go with it.

"Top Gun" is rated PG for violence and profanity, and there is a surprising, albeit brief sex scene, which would seem to be more in PG-13 territory.