Days of Thunder Reviews
The film received mixed reviews from critics who mostly shrugged off the sometimes over-the-top special effects and plot in many ways resembling the earlier Bruckheimer, Simpson, Scott and Cruise vehicle Top Gun (some calling it "Top Gun on wheels" or "Top Gun in Race Cars!"), which had been a huge success four years earlier. Halliwell's Film Guide dismissed Days of Thunder as "An over familiar story rendered no more interestingly than usual", while the Monthly Film Bulletin described it as "simply a flashy, noisy star vehicle for Tom Cruise, one which - like the stock car he drives - goes around in circles getting nowhere". Rotten Tomatoes consensus is: "Days of Thunder has Tom Cruise and plenty of flash going for it, but they aren't enough to compensate for the stock plot, two-dimensional characters, and poorly written dialogue."
In a positive review, film critic Roger Ebert noted: Days of Thunder is an entertaining example of what we might as well call the Tom Cruise Picture, since it assembles most of the same elements that worked in Top Gun, The Color of Money and Cocktail and runs them through the formula once again. Parts of the plot are beginning to wear out their welcome, but the key ingredients are still effective. They include:
1. The Cruise character, invariably a young and naive but naturally talented kid who could be the best, if ever he could tame his rambunctious spirit.
2. The Mentor, an older man who has done it himself and has been there before and knows talent when he sees it, and who has faith in the kid even when the kid screws up because his free spirit has gotten the best of him.
3. The Superior Woman, usually older, taller and more mature than the Cruise character, who functions as a Mentor for his spirit, while the male Mentor supervises his craft.
4. The Craft, which the gifted young man must master.
5. The Arena, in which the young man is tested.
6. The Arcana, consisting of the specialized knowledge and lore that the movie knows all about, and we get to learn.
7. The Arc, a journey to visit the principal places where the masters of the craft test one another.
8. The Proto-Villain, the bad guy in the opening reels of the movie, who provides the hero with an opponent to practice on. At first the Cruise character and the Proto-Enemy dislike each other, but eventually through a baptism of fire they learn to love one another.
9. The Villain, a real bad guy who turns up in the closing reels to provide the hero with a test of his skill, his learning ability, his love, his craft and his knowledge of the Arena and the Arcana.
In an 1990 Siskel and Ebert special on Cruise, Ebert added one more ingredient to the formula, the "Dying Friend", referencing how in almost all the Cruise formula films, his friend/colleague had almost ended up sick or dying in the course of the film to present an emotional challenge for the Cruise character.
With the success of "Top Gun" Tom Cruise ended up in a typcasted universe as Roger Ebert points out above and the three following films including "Days Of Thunder" carries more of less the same formula. Why change a winning concept? Or..? The NASCAR arena in the film feels real and authentic and it´s visually quite alright, so Tony Scott managed to do what he did with "Top Gun" which is to make you believe in the settings and surroundings. The casting is ok, but no one really shines if you ask me. However, the storyline is so formulaic, "cartoony", stereotypical and macho (typical Scott watermarks) you have a hard time to not just dismiss it as just "Top Gun on wheels" and not much else.
Trivia: The film's disappointing box-office performance was responsible for destroying the relationship between Paramount and superproducers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. After the film under-performed in the summer of 1990, the studio angrily responded in two ways. They insisted on an impossible lowball budget for a planned third edition of the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, and asked Simpson and Bruckheimer to give Paramount nine million dollars of their earnings for this movie back to defray losses. The producers responded by telling Paramount they were done working there, and the studio terminated their contract, which led to them taking a new production deal with Disney via Hollywood Studios.