Top Gun: Maverick

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Having lived in Key West for over two decades, I have a special place in my cinematic affections for the movie “Top Gun.” Not that any of the classic jet-jockey film took place on this southernmost island, but because its co-star Kelly McGillis lived here for years.

I used to go to lunch at her eponymous restaurant, a garden spot called Kelly’s Caribbean Bar Grill & Brewery. You could often see the actress and her kids bustling about the place.

While I knew her then-husband Fred Tillman, and she’s now my almost-neighbor in Hendersonville, North Carolina, she will always be fixed in my mind as Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, the motorcycle-riding flight instructor who served as Tom Cruise’s love interest in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.”

You will remember the story: A hotshot Navy pilot named Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) and his radar guy “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) get competitive with a rival pilot known as “Iceman” (Val Kilmer). After 36 years, a Spoiler Alert is not needed to tell you that Goose dies, Maverick and Iceman defeat six Russian MiGs, and Maverick and Charlie wind up together in the end.

A good ride.

But we’ve come to expect that of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced films.

Now Bruckheimer and Cruise are back with a long-promised sequel, this one called “Top Gun: Maverick.” As Cruise said, “Aviators are back, the need for speed. We’re going to have big, fast machines. It’s going to be a competition film, like the first one … but a progression for Maverick.”

Finished in 2019, the film’s opening was delayed due to the Covid pandemic. It is now playing in theaters.

The story this time around: Maverick has avoided promotion so he can keep flying jets as a test pilot and flight instructor. Iceman (Kilmer reprising his role) has risen through the ranks to become a four-star admiral commanding the US Pacific Fleet.

Iceman assigns his old rival to train a group of Top Gun candidates for a specialized mission against an unnamed country that has started to enrich uranium, a nuclear threat. The team plans to accomplish this by a low-altitude attack that requires them to push the limits of their F/A-18 Hornets to a 9.5 G-force acceleration, two Gs above the aircraft’s specified maximum performance.

How does that work out? Buy a ticket.

Ed Harris is cast as Rear Admiral “Hammer” Cain, Maverick’s superior. Miles Teller steps in as Lt. “Rooster” Bradshaw, Goose’s son. Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, and Monica Barbaro are pilot trainees. Jon Hamm is a rear admiral.

Yes, everybody has a nickname: “Maverick,” “Iceman,” “Hammer,” “Rooster,” “Hangman,” “Cyclone,” “Payback,” “Fanboy,” “Phoenix,” “Warlock,” you name it.

However, Kelly McGillis’s “Charlie” won’t be making an appearance in this new movie. “I wasn’t asked,” she says.

Maverick’s love interest this time around is Penelope “Penny” Benjamin, played by Jennifer Connelly. Penny is a single mother who owns a bar near the base.

“Look, she’s a great actress,” says Cruise, “and when you see the film, you’ll see why she’s perfect for it.

One fan points out that Jennifer Connelly is 48. Tom Cruise is 59. Kelly McGillis is 62. Ageism or good casting? Who knows?

“That’s Hollywood for you,” says one of my movie pals. Life in the Danger Zone.

Kelly McGillis doesn’t seem to mind. “I’m so glad that she got that opportunity,” she says of Connelly’s role in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Why did Kelly leave Hollywood? “I think just my priorities in life changed,” she shrugs. ”It wasn’t like a major decision that I made to leave, it was just that other things became more important. I love acting, I love what I do, I love doing theater, but I don’t know. To me, my relationships to other people became far more important than my relationship to fame.”

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