Tim Daland (Randy Quaid) is a used car salesman who wants to get into the racing business, but he only has enough money for one vehicle, so it has to be a good one. With that in mind, he goes out to visit an old hand at this NASCAR game, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) who retired from the circuit where he was such an expert at building and maintaining the cars because of a major crash which killed his team's star driver. He takes a lot of persuading, but soon has designed a great new car which now needs a great new driver, so when on the track trying it out, who should roar up on a motorbike but one Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise)?
Cole Trickle?! Is that a trickle of sweat or a trickle of urine? Given the character was apparently named after real life driver Dick Trickle maybe it's the latter, but the fact remained audiences were not exactly queueing in their droves to watch Days of Thunder back in 1990, and that might have been down to its notoriously troubled production, which represented a rare flop from Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, those eighties superproducers who had enjoyed such a hit with previous Cruise vehicle Top Gun. One problem being Simpson himself, who had demanded a role in the movie, lusting after movie star adulation instead of being behind the scenes.
His number of lines in the final product? One. But this was not only being frantically edited together right up to the finish line, scenes were being shot that way too, making it something of a minor miracle director Tony Scott managed to fashion a proper film out of it at all. Not that many were impressed anyway, and looking at the list of absurdities which passed for a plot you could see why ardent NASCAR fans were wont to regard Days of Thunder with derision, though it since became a guilty pleasure just for those reasons as some macho variation on a camp classic. But let's not overstate the case here: it remained a bombastic and boring experience no matter what chuckles you could intermittently garner from it.
Credibility went straight out the window when Cole admits within five minutes of his entrance that he knows nothing about NASCAR and became an excellent driver (not in the Rain Man sense) by watching the sport on TV, and even then doesn't know any of the jargon. So we're meant to swallow this armchair enthusiast is actually some kind of racing genius, and it all goes downhill from there, from Cole getting picked on by the other drivers who keep bumping into him, the unimpressed Harry encouraging his pit crew to sit about munching ice lollies instead of attending to the car - in the middle of the race - which leads up to such dubious actions as Cole attempting to murder his latest rival Cary Elwes on the track, and nobody batting an eyelid. Because he's a maverick, natch.
To prove he's not gay even if he does enjoy play wrestling with Harry more than he does being accosted by a prostitute dressed as a lady cop, Cole must have love interest, and she turned out to be the actual love interest of Mr Cruise too, Nicole Kidman who played the world's youngest brain surgeon or something and attends to him when he is injured in a crash. His other rival, Michael Rooker, was injured too and they're so competitive that they get into a wheelchair race right there in the hospital, another example of the film's desperate scrabbling for masculinity when if it relaxed more it might have been convincing. Anyway, Nicole's Doctor Claire Lewicki is an ice queen at first but naturally thaws as Cole woos her, and he gets to grow two inches in height when their big love scene comes around. Really, Days of Thunder was the worst kind of chest-thumping schlock, which has an audience, maybe more today than back then, but that didn't prevent it from lacking any suspense whatsoever; even Hans Zimmer's music seems to belong in a parody.
British-born director Tony Scott was the brother of director Ridley Scott and worked closely with him in their production company for film and television, both having made their names in the advertising business before moving onto glossy features for cinema. He shocked Hollywood by committing suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles for reasons that were never disclosed.