Demolition Man (1993)

demolition_man_1993_3-1

In the run-up to review 500, I’ve been taking requests from friends and readers, and the most recent one was merely “a Sandra Bullock movie!” I thought about “Miss Congeniality” but realised she’d done a movie which fit into the ISCFC’s wheelhouse perfectly – a weirdly comedic, near-future action movie which was misunderstood on release, a bit.

 

Joel Silver is one of the more intriguing fellows in Hollywood. Along with the Simpson / Bruckheimer crew, he’s responsible almost single-handedly for what you probably think of if you think of Hollywood in the late 80s-90s. I was going to list his movies but it’d take up most of this review – suffice to say, he’s had an enormous amount of success with big-budget action movies, with a strong element of humour in them, spectacular set pieces and OTT endings. There was a brief moment in the early 90s when the action stayed the same, but the comedy was ramped way up – an era that audiences rejected soundly and are a byword for unchecked hubris from their stars. The thing is, looking back on them now they’ve aged pretty well, and had it not been for their box office failure meaning it was open season on mockery, they’d be a lot more fondly remembered.

wesley-snipes-demolition-man-560

The king of these OTT action comedies is “Hudson Hawk” (another Silver production), without a doubt; but the other main offenders are “The Last Action Hero” and this. One each for Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone, before they all decided to stick to action, or comedy, but never the twain shall meet. There are other, lesser examples, like “Double Dragon” and “Street Fighter”, but they’re both based on computer games so I don’t think they had the same pressure on them. This, on the other hand, only feels like it was based on a computer game.

 

Evidently, Joel Silver thought the world would fall apart, hard, in the next few years. Stallone is John Spartan, the baddest cop in the hellscape that is 1996 LA, and he’s after the world’s most evil criminal, Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). After a pretty ridiculous action sequence, involving bungee jumping from a helicopter and blowing up a building, and the way the cops believe the super-criminal over their best cop, both men are put in cryogenic jail. Phoenix is woken up in 2032 and escapes – clearly with the help of someone powerful – and finds a very different world.

1139_xxl_2

The world of 2032 is a fun idea, if you don’t think about it. No fossil fuel, barely any crime, no guns, everyone seems happy, and the city of San Angeles seems like a decent place to live. But it goes silly quickly – you’ll be fined for swearing ; everything bad for you (including salt, caffeine and alcohol) has been banned, and for some reason people use multiple words where one would do. For instance – murder is now known as “MurderDeathKill”, time is “tick-tocks”, and so on. The cops haven’t seen a murder in almost 20 years and are completely unprepared for the wildness of Phoenix, so guess who they have to thaw out?

 

Spartan teams up with 20th century obsessed cop Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), plus there’s Dennis Leary as the leader of the people who’ve chosen to live underground rather than submit to The Man, and endless funny little moments as one of our guys from the past interacts with a bit of 2032.

 

The satire is very strong in places. Watching it from 2015, where the world is meaner, the gap between rich and poor is even wider, and the political right is destroying all manner of social programs, San Angeles seems nicer than I suspect the filmmakers meant it to. But then you have Dennis Leary, via a monologue which feels lifted straight from his standup of the time, making the case for…the world we live in today, pretty much…and his nonsense is never corrected. I don’t think it’s as simple as “I should be allowed to do whatever I want” versus “all things that are bad for you are banned” – there’s billions of dollars of advertising spent to convince you that fast food X isn’t nutrition-free garbage and our “freedom of choice” is just freedom to be exploited by the wealthiest corporations. The loudest shouters for “freedom of speech” just want freedom from consequences, or freedom from having to listen to viewpoints different to their own.

demo-02

I’m drifting from the topic of this fine movie quite a bit, though. A lot of the jokes rely on you not thinking about them too much – the most popular radio station plays old advertising jingles, but there appears to be no actual music; people have no idea at all about the past, yet what happened to all the books and movies and so on? Where did all the guns go? 35 years (or however long they were in cryo-jail) just isn’t long enough for everyone to have forgotten the past so completely, which makes you wonder why they decided on that as the time…

 

Spartan had a wife who apparently died in a gigantic earthquake in 2010, and a daughter, but the movie tells us nothing about her other than she’s still alive. I would bet £20 that Sandra Bullock was originally going to be the daughter (love of violence is in her blood!) but they changed it at the very last minute to be a love interest. The problem is, it’s such a weird hole in things that it leaves their relationship feeling a little creepy – it’s not on the screen at all, just reading between the lines. IMDB’s trivia backs me up, so I’d guess there’s an alternate ending on a cutting room floor somewhere.

404

Bullock is great though, playing her part with enthusiasm but a weird sort of naivete which comes across as charming. Stallone is Stallone, but Snipes (and most of the rest of the cast) have a whale of a time chewing scenery and there’s a strong sense that this was a fun movie to make. It’s certainly a fun one to watch, even if it’s so packed with stuff that any satirical intent is sort of choked by weird references to how they have sex in the future, or the way they use the toilet.

 

But…it tries to say something, unlike virtually all other action films (and comedies) of the time. I’m not sure how much say director Marco Brambilia (a video artist) had over Stallone and Silver, but it’s a great looking, odd, funny, action-packed movie.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Advertisements

Expendables 3 (2014)

expendables-3-2

I really didn’t like the second Expendables film. Or the first one, for that matter. Yet here I am again, giving part 3 a try. And, you know what? I think they’ve cracked it! Some of the problems remain, but I think they’ve finally embraced the ridiculousness of it all.

Stallone and his crew start by pulling off a pretty impressive moving train rescue of a prisoner, who turns out to be…Wesley Snipes! He’d been in some deep dark prison that officially didn’t exist for 8 years, but he’s a former member of the crew and I guess the motto is “never leave an Expendable behind”.

We get our first taste of the major running theme when Snipes, asked what he spent all that time in prison for, says “tax evasion”. Throughout, there are references in the script to the film itself, the process of filming it, or the previous films of its stars. So you’ll get Schwarzenegger talking about how this is his last favour to Stallone, Harrison Ford dropping a Star Wars line, and even (in one fairly appalling moment) Mel Gibson talking about how you wouldn’t like him when he gets angry. Ultimately, if people want to employ Mel Gibson again, and don’t mind that it will keep people away from the cinema (Jewish people, women, people who don’t like awful human beings), then it’s their dollar. The moral case against some films is an article for another time, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the action. While Snipes is helping them on their next mission, they run into Mel Gibson, another former Expendable who went over to the dark side. Thing is, Stallone thought he’d killed him years ago, so him now being a super-wealthy international arms dealer is a bit of a surprise, and sends Stallone into a downward spiral. He fires his old team, and then goes to mercenary-supplier Kelsey Grammer (!) to get a new team, one who don’t mind this being a one-way mission. Kellan Lutz (from Twilight) is perhaps the biggest name of the new fish, but the obvious breakout star of this lot is UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. While not, at this point, the greatest actor in the world, she can kick ass and is a strikingly beautiful woman, so I see her having a similar / perhaps slightly better career than other MMA-star-turned-actor Gina Carano.

But Stallone’s hubris gets his new team captured! What will happen! Will the original team, plus a few old friends, get in on the rescuing action? Just who else will show up?

The climactic battle is sort-of a reverse version of “The Raid” (people trapped in building, fighting to get out), I’m positive was sold to the producers in those exact terms, and it’s amazing. No two ways about it, the best fight scene in any of the three films. The reason is, they stopped trying to pretend that these people, doing this, is likely to happen in the real world. It’s an over the top slice of escapism, and the acknowledgement of this makes it more fun. Stallone shoots an insanely large number of people, tanks are commandeered, there are some sweet bike stunts and some comic relief made good.

That comic relief is Antonio Banderas, who plays a guy you think might be faking it about being a badass fighter. He keeps trying to get on Stallone’s team, talks constantly, and acts like a guy who’s never shot a gun a day in his life. And through the final battle, he still doesn’t shoot, accidentally taking out a couple of goons on the way. I thought “either he’s not going to fire a single bullet the entire time he’s there, or he’s going to be the biggest badass of them all”. I will leave that fun discovery to you, the viewer.

towercard-5ffef566-2f0a-46a0-bad6-8618bc1603f5

Of course, it’s not perfect. The banter is still awful and wooden, which may well be a reference to how bad it was back then, but I think is more likely to be the writer (Stallone) not understanding how people sound these days – the entry of parkour into this film indicates he’s got up to the late 90s on his cultural references now. Anyway, Harrison Ford (replacing Bruce Willis as Sly’s CIA contact, dismissing Willis with the fairly clever line “he’s out of the picture”) is flying a helicopter round the scene of the final battle, and as a large group of goons are mown down by his machine gun fire, he growls “that had to hurt”. Of course it bloody hurt! You just shot them! What sort of monster are you?

There’s poor acting a-plenty, as well. Dolph Lundgren, never the greatest actor, has the good sense to stay in the background through most of this one, and I’m not sure Randy Couture gets more than a line or two. Ronda Rousey is going to be great, but she’s not here, and my favourite, Terry Crews, is sidelined for most of the film. Also, Ford, Schwarzenegger and Stallone don’t really try, realising people go to see them be them, not “act”. Still, Mel Gibson reminds us why in happier times he was a great leading man, Jason Statham continues to smirk his way through the huge paychecks he’s no doubt receiving for these movies, and the rest of the new blood remind us that in the 21st century, action stars need to be able to act as well as look good swinging through a window firing a rifle.

While not a great film, it’s certainly an entertaining one, which is more than can be said for the previous two Expendables movies. Also, now a non-action-star like Kelsey Grammer has become part of the family, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for future movies, plus you’ve got people like Pierce Brosnan saying they’re in talks for the fourth one. Ah well, if it’s as much fun as this one I’ll be happy to watch it.

Rating: thumbs up

The Expendables 2 (2012)

 I’m not entirely sure there’s any reason trying to do a normal review of this film. It defies analysis, or anything remotely approaching how a film critic (even an amateur like me) would deal with a film. But I’ll give it a go.

That caption should read "Back (Problems) For War"

That caption should read “Back (Problems) For War”

This film has literally everyone in it who ever starred in a 1980s action film. Mickey Rourke quit after the first film, but the sequel brings in  – Jean Claude Van Damme (with his co-star from the most recent Universal Soldier film as his sidekick); Chuck Norris (accompanied by the theme music from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, as if the filmmakers really wanted Clint Eastwood but realised the best they could afford was another right-wing nut, but one who’d not worked in a decade); Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (who both appeared in the first one too, I guess, but had bigger parts here); and of course the main cast – Sylvester “wow, HGH sure changes a person” Stallone, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews.

I was actually wracking my brain and can’t think of a single action star of that era who’s been left out. Maybe Barry Bosworth, star of the amazingly-titled “One Tough Bastard”? Jackie Chan, who was never really a Li-style action star? Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh too, but I guess mature women have no place in this brave new world. I think they got all the main ones.

So, the basic plot of this film is that Stallone, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger are hugely wealthy men who paid a bunch of decent younger action stars to do this super-cool-sounding adventure with them so they can pretend to be young…oh wait, that’s real life, not the plot. The Expendables (who, for their name, lose very few members) have to stop some baddies stealing some Cold War-era nuclear material, and…no, that’s about it.

THE GOOD

The action stuff. This film was directed by Simon West, who made one of my favourite films ever (“Con Air”), a film which should have been awesome but which sucked (the first “Tomb Raider” film) and then apparently alienated a bunch of people in Hollywood and the jobs dried up. Anyway, he did what he could with this one, and the action scenes are decent. There’s also one fantastic fight – the Stath vs. JCVD’s sidekick, which is short but looks like two excellent fighters beating the crap out of each other.

Jason Statham and Terry Crews. Two guys who don’t really need this franchise, and who look suitably ashamed to be reading some of this dialogue out. And JCVD makes a decent villain too.

THE BAD

First up, the banter. Someone told these guys that a bit of playful banter in between scenes of carnage is a good thing, but unfortunately they hired a sexually frustrated teenager with no friends to write these parts. Perhaps it’s some meta joke about how bad dialogue was in those 80s action classics?

The acting mostly sucked too, but then I guess what should we expect? Schwarzenegger and Norris effectively play themselves, Randy Couture isn’t an actor and a lot of other guys were clearly not hired direct from a stint at the RSC.

THE UGLY

gty_sylvester_stallone_jef_120814_wg

BOOM! TAKE THAT YOU GUYS! (high fives imaginary audience)

In conclusion, it’s stupid and only worth bothering with if you suffered some sort of head trauma and forgot about the 80s. Remember these guys as they were – kicking ass in low-budget films in a variety of colourful locales; not as they are, which is sad old men doing the equivalent of 4 different bands all getting together to form one monstrous supergroup, years after fame left them…and trying to write new material.

The Expendables 2 on IMDB
Buy The Expendables 2 [DVD]