To get a feel for why the gem of a video embedded below made it to air, you need a little context. See, the 1980s were a time when men with mullets leapt into sports cars on a regular basis, a time when we liked—above all else—bright and shiny things, big hair, and a good hero story. Watch first, then let’s unpack it.
Okay, now let’s attempt to follow the narrative here. Right off the bat, the cursive, purple neon “Daytona” lettering just works. Bam! Rad. But things get bizarre pretty quickly, starting with the state-of-the-art superfast jump cuts of South Beach B-roll to the beat of Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone.”
Suddenly, a vaguely Tom Cruise-ian guy is drinking a cortado on a South Beach balcony as a red Dodge Daytona autonomously pulls itself out of an alley and then drunkenly careens to a stop across part of the street to make sure it’s in frame. Top Gun soundtrack still blasting, our star has to adjust his sunglasses—a total ’80s power move—to be sure he’s seeing this right. What could this never-before-seen exotic possibly be?
A subliminal “Danger Zone” sign flashes on the screen and he impulsively leaps the balcony to steal the unmanned car, which opens its own door to welcome him inside. Flying through South Beach, his sunglasses back in position, the pink-shirted bandit flashes a real shit-eating grin when he knows he’s in the clear. It’s time to have some serious fun, doing stuff like sweet jumps on public roads.
Then he’s unexpectedly on a racetrack, the exhilaration relayed directly into your brain thanks to the beautifully executed, entirely too long, and possibly stroke-inducing edit once again timed to the drums in the song. A Pontiac Trans Am and a Nissan 300ZX edge ahead, so our man slam-shifts with the force of 1,000 Steven Seagals and blows them away, with narrator inviting us to experience the outer edge of technology or something. (Note the sick body roll, dive, and squat on these ’80s sports cars.)
Suddenly, a scene at the docks. A Magnum, P.I./Miami Vice-type guy—call him Crocknum, or maybe Magnubbs—scans the water with binoculars before suddenly bolting to his Daytona, executing a flawless ’80s jump over the door, through the T-tops, and into the car. Things are really heating up, but what the hell is happening? We know this much, contextually: When this ad was made, it was mandatory that every television series feature at least five shipping-yard scenes per season because that’s where dangerous things happen. So maybe the white blazer guy is in cahoots with bad Tom Cruise? The cars are maybe hustled into containers and shipped to the U.S.S.R.?
Four identical cuts of Crocknum reversing aggressively follow, along with the subliminal “Danger Zone” calling card again. (We told you it was getting dangerous.) An old man rips the Daytona around the shipping yard for a bit. There’s a boat, and Crocknum, P.I. is driving again. They’re . . . racing? The scene abruptly ends, cutting to the final cinematic tour de force.
A silver Daytona pulls slowly into a closed road marked with a real “Danger Zone” sign, the idea pointlessly and excessively driven home by the subliminal one popping up again—somewhere, a Chrysler exec demanded each scene start with this sign. A pretty woman pulls up to an abandoned house or motel or bait shop, its windows and doors open and curtains fluttering in the wind. Inside, a total creeper takes a final puff of his cigarette and heads deeper into the overly smoky building. He’s had a lot of cigarettes. Addicted to nicotine, she abandons her better judgment and heads in. She picks up a cigarette butt from the staircase (like, what?) before she cuts out and nearly has an accident with the black Daytona from our second scene. The cars then drive side by side down a long bridge, one of them on the wrong side of the road because danger zone.
It all feels like a weird dream. But then again, so do the ’80s.