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Cruise-ing through summer

How “Top Gun: Maverick” sent me down a nine-film Tom Cruise rabbit hole

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It all started with “Kokomo,” the Beach Boys’ hit 1988 single, that spiraled me down the Thomas Cruise Mapother IV (also known as Tom Cruise) rabbit hole. That, and my mother’s love for the 1986 action-drama/Navy propaganda film, “Top Gun.”

Regardless, yes, you read the title correctly: I spent my precious summertime watching nine Tom Cruise films since the end of the school year. Was it out of some form of morbid curiosity, or a deeper, subconscious desire to live as a Scientologist? The jury is still out.

Before we begin, I have also prepared a playlist that will undoubtedly put you in the ideal mood to join me in this journey. Just as the Beach Boys “take you down to Kokomo,” I, too, shall take you to the recesses of my Tom Cruise-infested psyche.

Part I: “Homoerotic Beach Sports”

The most difficult part of watching the “Top Gun” duology is going through the highs and lows of the admittedly mediocre original, eventually accepting it as the corny ’80s drama that it is, before being exposed to the far superior 2022 sequel.

“Top Gun” tells the story of Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his journey through TOPGUN, a prestigious fighter pilot school. It’s a stereotypical story of the renegade hot-shot who eventually learns the lessons of teamwork and overcomes his struggles, while defeating the “evil” Russians. “Top Gun: Maverick,” in a strangely apt way, shows what happens when the hot-shot runs cold, gets old, and is pushed out by the system. In the sequel, Maverick returns to TOPGUN as an instructor, and attempts to rekindle old flames, while ultimately coming face to face with the mistakes of his past.

Together, these two films are certainly worth watching, if not for their entertainment value alone, then for their glorious beach sports sequences. Arguably the most famous scene in Cruise’s career is in the first “Top Gun,” where he plays a jubilant beach volleyball match against an oiled-up Val Kilmer to the tune of “Playing with the Boys” by Kenny Loggins. While the homoerotic subtext is certainly not lost on me, it was apparantly lost on my mother (for 36 years).

In “Maverick,” the whole squad is at the beach, where Miles Teller’s shirtless shimmy has gone viral — if nothing else, continuing the “Top Gun” legacy of shirtless dudes, fast jets, and military propaganda.

Part II: “Mission: Difficult”

If you’re a casual moviegoer, you’ve probably only heard of the newest “Mission: Impossible” entries, subtitled “Fallout” and “Rogue Nation.” These are tight, spy-action films with absolutely insane stunts performed by Cruise and company.

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However, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the “Mission: Impossible” films had their fair share of growing pains. Starting with 1996’s “Mission: Impossible,” directed by Brian De Palma, the series has understated roots. The film is a more cerebral, paranoid thriller about a young, sweaty Cruise going on the run from his own agency — which he continues to do in essentially every following film.

He doesn’t fire a gun in that one, which makes the 2000 follow-up “Mission: Impossible 2” an even more bizarre film. Directed by legendary Hong Kong action visionary John Woo, and undoubtedly the worst film in the series, Cruise’s character transforms into a horny, murderous lunatic that dual-wields pistols, flip-kicks people in slow-motion, and motorcycle jousts the main antagonist.

If you are interested in catching up on “Mission: Impossible” lore before the 2023 release of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” skip the second one. The rest are fairly enjoyable in their own ways, if not achingly similar, but there’s only so much slow-motion one person can take.

Part III: “Tropical Contact High”

At last, we return to “Kokomo.” The song of the summer, at least for me — its dulcet tones, soft harmonies, and romantic lyrics instill a tempestuous spirit in my heart. Kokomo: that is, indeed, where we wanna go.

I watched the film “Cocktail,” because I was riding the post-“Top Gun” high, sure, but also mostly because “Kokomo” was on the soundtrack. Little did I know that it would only play for a few seconds in the dead middle of the film. Was it worth it? Perhaps not.

“Cocktail” is a Reagan-era sigma male grindset film that follows Cruise’s Brian Flanagan, a business-oriented military discharge who, when failing to make it at business school, becomes one half of a theatrical flair bartending team. Eventually, he formulates a plan: open a chain of bars called “Cocktails and Dreams,” starting with a location in Jamaica.

It is here where we get to listen to the 10 second iTunes preview version of “Kokomo,” and it might very well be the best 10 seconds of the whole film. The rest was mostly incoherent, and often unintentionally hilarious, including a frankly insane motif involving Cruise spewing alcohol-based slam poetry while standing atop his bar.

To conclude, I would not recommend watching six Mission: Impossible films in a row. It’s an almost insurmountable endeavor. “Top Gun: Maverick” is like “Top Gun” if it was good, and you should only watch “Cocktail” if you have one of your own in your hand (and about three already in your stomach).

Lastly, no, I have not converted to Scientology. Yet.

Reach writer Joshua Lee at arts@dailyuw.edu. Twitter @theleejosh

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Joshua is a senior studying JPIC serving as Arts + Culture Editor for The Daily, covering movies, plays, concerts, and more.

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