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Film Critic Harlan Jacobson reviews Tom Cruise's newest movie Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise revives his role as a top military pilot in "Top Gun: Maverick"
Paramount Pictures
Tom Cruise revives his role as a top military pilot in "Top Gun: Maverick"

DD: Top Gun: Maverick brings Tom Cruise back to the screen, flying faster than a speeding bullet, doing his own stunts in jet planes, blowing stuff up, reclaiming the pretty girl he left behind and burning a hole through the screen with his white, hot teeth as usual. Our film critic, Harlan Jacobson, is here to tell you where this Cruise missile lands first.

HJ: How about at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, which begins next Tuesday night and where this sequel to the long ago original 1986 film gets a special out-of-competition screening in the full to capacity 2300-seat Grande Theatre Lumiere. Cruise, chief sizzle producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Joseph Kosinski, on his 4th film (he made Oblivion in 2013 with Cruise), plus stars Jennifer Connelly,  Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Miles Teller, and hopefully Val Kilmer haul themselves up the red carpet in front of thousands of cheering peasants screaming “Mavareek.”  

As Captain Pete Mitchell, Cruise was 22 when cast opposite Val Kilmer in director Tony Scott’s Top Gun Navy Pilots School and learned a few tricks from Instructor Kelly McGillis that had more to do with her black leather leggings and stratospheric stiletto high heels than the F14 fighter jet’s high altitude histrionics. Make that avionics. Cruise hits 60 this year, 59 when he filmed this, and he looks better now than I did at 22. He even does a stripped to the ripped abs beach football scene —you know, team building -- and the IMDB says he insisted on a reshoot a week later forcing the cast into a starvation diet and gym routine a second time.

Based on the characters created by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. from Ehud Yonay’s 1983 article in California Magazine, the story here involves the usual testosterone-fueled pilot palaver, with room for a carefully curated group of gender and ethnic wing people, with handles like Phoenix, Hangman, Coyote, Fanboy and Payback played by Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Greg Davis, Glen Powell, and Danny Ramirez. Now the aging hero has to fly one last mission to take out a uranium enrichment plant located in an impenetrable crack between mountains in an unnamedcountry –ha! wonder which one -- I flew, I bombed, Iran. Only this time, Capt. Mitchell is downgraded to instructor at the start by mission commander Jon Hamm-It-Up.

Move over generation Double Z, this is nothing less than the old guy gets it done — am I telling you anything you don’t know going in? -- and comes back to the just-so cute barmaid, Jennifer Connelly as Penny Benjamin, always ready with a wink and an equally toothy grin. Never mind that Maverick forgot about her at least three years earlier, consumed instead by making repairs to his WWII-era P-51 Mustang that Cruise keeps in a hangar in the Mojave Desert and actually flies to impress in this film. Oy, jet fuel motorheads—pistons over persons until they hit 60! Socio-politically, this is however the perfect Joe Biden in his aviator sunglasses cinema-analog movie about saving America and the world.

While Top Gun: Maverick may seem like the most recent in a long line of the Old Guy Gitter Done genre that goes back at least to The Searchers, or Shane, or High Noon, and found full flowering in the “Artist” vs The Bureaucracy workplace films of Clint Eastwood, the thing that makes Top Gun: Maverick fun and absolutely worth seeing in the rarefied atmosphere of Cannes or on Imax here when it opens May 27th, is the F-18 flying. It’s sensational. Zip, zip, zap, roll and hurl, upside down –- not backwards -- roll and drop, whoops that’s Cruise in a 360 upside down on top of you. The film’s true genre is Cinerama, Navy-style. Up that rollercoaster till you drop and your stomach slingshots out of your mouth. Go ahead, go to it for that.

I’ll next report to you from the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. I’m eager to see Armageddon Time, my friend James Gray’s 1980-set Queens memoir—one of his best films was his first, Little Odessa, about growing up in Brooklyn. This time with Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Strong. If James is a real friend, he’ll make sure I’m invited to the world premiere screening and the dinner afterwards. I’m packing a tux only for that, Gray. F’shtay?

Also on my Cannes hot tickets list are:

David –The Fly, Crash -- Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, with Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart and Cannes favorite Lea Seydoux

George – Mad Max – Miller’s 3000 Years of Longing, set in Istanbul with Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

Michel Hazanavicius’ Final Cut about a zombie attack on a zombie movie set with Berenice Bejo, who co-starred in his 2011 The Artist, in competition at Cannes that year and which went on to sweep top awards at the Oscars including Best Picture. I’m suspicious, but we’ll see.

Finally, I want to remind you opening this weekend at home in New York is JazzFest: A New Orleans Story, produced and co-directed by documentary director Ryan Suffern and Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg’s ace producer of all the Indiana Jones, Bourne Identities, Jurassic Parks, and a dedicated music doc filmmaker himself, including The Story of A&M Records founders Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story celebrates the 50th anniversary of the festival -- a postponed anniversary due to Covid 19, I might add -- a tour de force editing job of archival footage and the 2019 edition interspersed with musical performances by Irma Thomas, the entire Marsalis clan including the late Ellis, BB King, Al Green, Preservation Hall, Mahalia Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Professor Longhair, Dwayne Dopsie, Samantha Fish, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, even Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett, and Katy Perry, who comes out of gospel singing herself, along with testimonials by the late George Wein and Jazzfest impresario Quint Davis. It reminds us that culture is more powerful than politics — American music blew down the Iron Curtain, and Jazz raised New Orleans from the dead twice in our lifetime. WBGO and Talk Cinema hosted a screening last weekend at the Roxy Theatre in Tribeca, and the film rocked the Roxy. You’ll want to get in line and then get in a New Orleans Second Line. Because it’s as good as gumbo.

You can SEE Harlan Jacobson and Doug Doyle's interview with JAZZ FEST director Frank Marshall, executive producer Quint Davis and singer Irma Thomas here.

Harlan Jacobson became WBGO's film critic in 2010, covering the international film scene for the "WBGO Journal," with reports from film festivals around the world about films arriving on the scene in the greater New York-New Jersey metroplex.