LONG BEACH, Calif. — The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 m.p.h. to zero in two seconds.
Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.
He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics.
Compared to Karl Rove's "revvin' up your engine" myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer's movies look like "Lizzie McGuire."
This time Maverick didn't just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MIG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning. Mav swaggered across the deck to high-five his old gang: his wise flight instructor, Viper; his amiable sidekick, Goose; his chiseled rival, Iceman.
MAVERICK: I feel the need . . .
GOOSE: The need for speed!
ICEMAN: You're really a cowboy.
MAVERICK: What's your problem?
ICEMAN: Your ego's writing checks your body can't cash. You didn't need to take all that water survival training in the White House swimming pool. The Abraham Lincoln was practically docked, only 30 miles off shore, after 10 months at sea. They had to steer it away from land for you. If you'd waited a few hours, you could've just walked aboard. You and Rove are making a gorgeous campaign video on the Pacific to cast you as the warrior president for 2004, but back on shore, things are ugly. The California economy's bleeding, even worse than other states'. When you took office, the unemployment rate in San Jose was 1.7 percent; by February of this year, it had risen to 8.5 percent. Your motorcade didn't bother to stop in the depressed high-tech corridor in Silicon Valley. Every time you cut taxes and raise deficits while you're roaring ahead with a pre-emptive military policy, you're unsafe. National unemployment goes up to 6 percent and you just hammer Congress to pass your tax cut. The only guys sure about their jobs these days are defense contractors connected to Republicans and the Carlyle Group, which owns half of the defense plant you visited here. You're dangerous.
MAVERICK: That's right, Iceman. I am dangerous.
ICEMAN: You can fly, Maverick. But you, Cheney and Rummy are strutting around on a victory tour when you haven't found Osama or Saddam or WMD; you haven't figured out how you're going to stop tribal warfare and religious fanaticism and dangerous skirmishes with our soldiers; you don't yet know how to put Afghanistan and Iraq back together so that a lot of people over there don't hate us. And why can't you stop saying that getting rid of Saddam removed "an ally" of Al Qaeda and was payback for 9/11? You know we just needed to jump somebody in that part of the world.
MAVERICK: That part of the world is what I call a target rich environment, sorta like a Democratic debate. Hey, Miss Iceman, why don't you head to the Ladies Room? John Kerry and John Edwards are already there, fixin' their hair all pretty-like. Howard Dean's with 'em, trying on a dress, and Kucinich is hemming it for him.
VIPER: You're arrogant, son. I like that in a pilot. You're a hell of an instinctive flyer. You're a lot like your old man. He was a natural, heroic son of a gun. I flew with him in his torpedo bomber in '44. Is that why you fly the way you do? Trying to prove something by doing the opposite? He tried to get deficits down. He did it right. And he knew you had to have wingmen among the allies. You can't buzz the tower of the world every time you go up. You can't just jettison the Top Gun global rules of engagement.
MAVERICK: Sure I can. Like greed, aggression is good. Aggression has marked the upward surge of mankind. Aggression breeds patriotism, and patriotism curbs dissent. Aggression has made Democrats cower, the press purr and the world quake. Aggression — you mark my words — will not only save humanity, but it will soon color all the states Republican red. Mission accomplished.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company