"Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" attempts to raise junk to the level of American pop myth. But this particular piece of garbage is not redeemable -- sewers stink and so does "Harley Davidson."
Simon Wincer's new film tries to redo "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in a slightly futuristic context -- the year is 1996 and the ozone layer is gone -- with motorcycles instead of horses. Wincer's good with horses in historical contexts -- he did "Phar Lap" and TV's "Lonesome Dove" -- but he takes a terrible spill here.
The images of America that he's working with are Harley Davidson (Mickey Rourke in the Paul Newman role), a wanderer with a Martin Buberesque turn of mind ("If there is a heaven and there is a God, I'd like to meet the dude and hang with him a while") and Marlboro (Don Johnson in the Robert Redford part), a rebel who's an ex-rodeo rider with a social conscience.
That Mickey and Don are supposed to represent the last truly free Americans -- they'd make great dates for Thelma and Louise -- is made repeatedly clear by the awful script. "The rest of us work so hard in life and you guys just live one day at a time," one of the characters admiringly tells them.
But if the dialogue is bad, the plot is worse. It's an update of an Andy Hardy story in which the kids save the malt shop from a bank foreclosure. The difference is that the kids are scruffy bikers and the malt shop is the sleazy Rock 'n' Roll Bar and Grill, where people get drunk as hell (but don't take drugs) and where the waitresses are scantily clad (but don't sell their favors).
The boys owe the owner -- years ago he saved them from drug addiction -- so they steal $2.5 million from a bank armored vehicle in order to give it back as payment for his mortgage. But the boys discover that instead of money, the truck was carrying a drug called crystal dream -- a sort of super cocaine. It seems they accidentally interrupted the bank's evil CEO (Tom Sizemore) in his drug smuggling activities.
The performances are as bad as the script. The wisecracking Mickey Rourke is so wonderful at being the wisecracking Mickey Rourke that even De Niro couldn't do him any better -- but who cares? As for Don Johnson -- the only way I've ever been able to tell him apart from the equally good-looking Mark Harmon is that Johnson's an even worse actor. His modus operandi in this movie is to spout cowboy wisdom with a phrase that begins "as my old daddy once told me shortly before he left this sh---y world . . "
Long before this movie reaches its conclusion, you'll want to flush.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man'
Starring Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson.
Directed by Simon Wincer.
Released by MGM.