The One-Line Summary: Former open-wheel racing champion Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) switches gears and joins a NASCAR Winston Cup team, but his lack of terminology and stock car racing style plus his big ego and hot temper run him afoul of teammates and drivers until he goes all in with his crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), who helps him get back on track, though a budding romance with a neurosurgeon steers him in the direction as well.
The Two-Line Blurb: Race car films, especially stock car, are by default resigned to showing cars go around in circles, forced to try and make that interesting with crashes and camera work but can only be (like the real life counterparts) maintained by having charismatic, engaging, and rivalrous characters the audience cares about. While Days of Thunder has plenty of that, mostly as it gleefully clings to the formula that made Cruise famous in films like Top Gun and Cocktail, where he plays a young hotshot with a rebel streak who gets an older mentor to settle him down while becoming involved with an independent woman, the film doesn’t hide that fact, and with Tony Scott (also of Top Gun) directing, it has that same bombastic, over-the-top sensationalism so prominent and popular in that era.
The Three-Line Set-up: This moment is about the cost of ego and begins with Trickle having trouble getting used to the larger, more unwieldy NASCAR vehicles, but also misinterpreting signals and commands from the pit crew. Worse, he finds he’s got a rival in veteran driver Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) who toys with the novice Trickle in the early races, causing him to fall back or crash out. This gets Harry more involved and as the season progresses, the track-bout between the two escalates, giving the crowd lots of great action but putting the men in greater danger.
The Four-Line Moment: At the Firecracker 500 in Daytona, Cole and Rowdy are at it again when Rowdy’s car gets damaged and he gives Cole the signal to go on by but then gives his him a nudge, sending him spinning off the main track before deftly turning his car back in the right direction and into the race again. He catches up and while this is happening, a pile up has clogged turn four, filling the corner with thick white smoke, and after Rowdy goes through first, he gets spun around putting himself directly in Cole’s path. Cole, not able to see through the billowing plumage, steps full on the throttle and barrels through, running straight into his rival and flipping himself up and over Rowdy in a horrific crash, causing him to roll several times across the pavement as his car shreds apart. It’s the consequences of an ego-driven decision that nearly costs him his life and sets up a twist where Cole finds himself pitted against himself and a new rival on his own team.
The Five-Word Review: Entertaining popcorn fun with Cruise.
Clip courtesy Movieclips