Movies In Focus

The Great Don Johnson

The great Don Johnson was born on December 15, 1949. He worked in television and film throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, but Johnson hit the jackpot in 1984 when he was cast in the role of Sonny Crockett in in the era defining cop show, Miami Vice. Johnson delivers in spades and his chemistry with Philip Michael Thomas is amazing – and don’t get me started on the soundtrack.

With a relaxed and charismatic screen persona, it’s a shame Johnson never became the movie star he should have after Miami Vice hit TV in the ’80s. He was never entirely allowed to move away from the persona of Sonny Crockett – he tried – but audiences always seemed to associate him with pastel colours and designer stubble.

John Frankenheimer’s 1989 thriller Dead Bang needs more love. The film stars the mighty Don Johnson as Jerry Beck, a detective tracking white supremacists over the Christmas period.  The supporting cast for the film includes Penelope Ann Miller, William Forsythe and Bob Balaban (reuniting with Johnson after a Miami Vice guest-spot) – that’s a pretty impressive line-up of talent for a largely forgotten ’80s thriller. Even the production design was by the great Ken Adam (James Bond, Dr. Strangelove).

Simon Wincer’s Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man isn’t a very good film – but it is a fun one. The 1991 action film sees Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson team-up as branded bikers to take on Tom Sizemore and Daniel Baldwin’s bad guys. 

Nothing about the film is subtle (especially not the title), but there’s fun to be had if you take Wincer’s film for what it is – dumb fun.Budgeted at $23 million, Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man flamed-out at the US box office with just $7.4 million. 

Simon Wincer was coming-off the Australia-set Tom Selleck western Quigley Down Under but he’d rebounded after Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man‘s failure in 1993 with the smash-hit Free Willy.Mickey Rourke had just returned to boxing around the time of the film’s release and the mighty Don Johnson was attempting to turn his Miami Vice stardom into a big screen career – he would follow the action flick with the drama Paradise co-starring his then wife Melanie Griffith

 

He had a strong second wind with Nash Bridges in the 1990s. Created by Carlton Cuse (Lost), Nash Bridges ran for six seasons and 122 episodes between 1996 and 2001. The cop show was a perfect fit for a post Miami Vice Don Johnson – who helped craft the show with a little help from his friend Hunter S. Thompson.

In 2021, Johnson brought Nash Bridges back for a feature length movie event. He might be in his 70s, but Don Johnson proves he’s still got what it takes to play Nash Bridges. His screen charisma and laidback delivery show that he’s still a star – and he hasn’t missed a beat by slipping back into Nash’s trendy jackets after two decades. The same goes for Cheech Marin, who continues to be the perfect foil for Johnson’s character. 

Ending on a perfect note, Nash Bridges leaves the door open for more movies or an entirely new series and Don Johnson and Cheech Marin show that they’ve still got what it takes to deliver the goods – and that makes the possibility of more Nash Bridges a very exciting proposition.

Don Johnson always deserved more. He’s always had the looks of a screen hero, with a glint of evil bubbling under the surface. Given a chance he could had had a similar career trajectory to Michael Douglas (another star who got his break in a TV detective show) where he could have balanced a heroic screen persona with that of the villain. The Miami Vice/Nash Bridges legend delivers each time he’s on screen and in recent years he has done sterling work in Brawl In Cell Block 99, Vengeance, Dragged Across Concrete, Watchmen and Knives Out.

 

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