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ICYMI: Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)


I love a good buddy movie. I know, I know, they are potentially rife with racism, misogyny and homophobia but the good ones find a way to rise above such cliched tropes. The good ones have jazz-like banter that sticks in your head and give you characters that develop a bond of brotherhood with a love (spoke or unspoken) based on mutual respect and admiration. The first tier of classic buddy movies would include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 48 HRS., Lethal Weapon, and Midnight Run. My 2nd tier would include Stakeout, Shakedown, and The Last Boy Scout.

And just below that 2nd tier, but definitely worth a mention and discovery would be 1991’s Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. From Director Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove, Quigley Down Under, and Free Willy) comes this heavily conventional and predictable buddy pic that is redeemed by the charm of Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke, as well as dialogue worth its weight in gold (courtesy of screenwriter Don Michael Paul). Essentially, it’s a modern-day version of the Western genre with Rourke aka Harley Davidson and Johnson aka The Marlboro Man as low-level outlaws. They don’t have much of a back story (we never learn the genesis of their friendship) but we surmise that Harley is a perpetual drifter who comes back to LA from time to time and Marlboro was a once promising rodeo star just waiting for a push to get back on the circuit.

Harley and Marlboro reunite and discover that their favorite bar is being foreclosed. So, what better way to save their bar than rob a bank? Sadly, the armored car they rob is loaded with drugs being run by the evil bank CEO (Tom Sizemore) and even sadder is that they are now being hunted by “The Long Coats,” Sizemore’s security force who gets their moniker from the extra-long Kevlar-lined raincoats that make them nearly unkillable. There are very few surprises but what makes this potentially tiresome vehicle work is the easy rapport of Johnson and Rourke. It’s common knowledge that they did now get along during the shoot, and yet the screen is ripe with their characters’ lifelong friendship.

As I mentioned earlier, the dialogue is key here. It includes such exchanges as:

Marlboro: You know, it costs two bucks every time you fire that thing. That's two bucks a bullet.

Harley: Well, how many I hit?

Marlboro: You've spent twelve bucks and not hit a god damn thing.

Harley: It'll fly.

Marlboro: You wanna bet?

Harley: I'll bet you a Dollar. But if you win I'm gonna have to owe you - that cab fare last night broke me.

Marlboro: If I win, we're dead.

Additionally, Marlboro has limitless sage advice from his dearly departed old man and we even get a Butch and Sundance homage when our heroes find themselves in a rooftop showdown with the Long Coats and the only way out is down to the pool. This is definitely a movie for people who love movies.

When they say, “They don’t make them like they used to,” they are probably referring to recognized classics like Casablanca, Some Like It Hot and The Godfather. When I say it, I’m usually referring to good ole buddy flicks like Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Hardly original, overly predictable, but easily enjoyable.

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