The Ten Spot: The Best of The Expendables -- Part 2
Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Willis. Van Damme. Statham. Li. Lundgren. Norris. Fuck yeah.
THE EXPENDABLES 2, whether or not it turns out to be a good movie (don't worry- it is), is shaping up to be the one of the most star-studded action team up flicks ever made. I mean, holy shit! In the eighties or nineties, would it have even been remotely feasible that this gang would have all ended up in the same movie? Their paychecks alone would have been $100 million (Arnie, Sly and Bruce were all 20 mil a flick guys). I know, I know- Arnie and Bruce aren’t really “starring”, and neither is Norris for that matter- but whatever. The gang’s all here.
However, not all EXPENDABLES are created equal. Sure, Van Damme, Lundgren, Norris, and the Stafe all made some fun action pics, but Sly, Arnie, Bruce and Jet? They made EPICS. To get us all pumped up for THE EXPENDABLES 2, I’ve decided to put together a little list celebrating the best that their respective filmographies had to offer. So join me on a trip down memory lane, and don’t forget to pack some extra testosterone. You’ll need it.
Today's list examines the heavyweights: Arnie, Sly and Bruce. Like the last list which featured Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham, this only factors in solo action movies -- explaining the absence of some Bruce Willis faves, like PULP FICTION, THE SIXTH SENSE, and UNBREAKABLE.
OK- so maybe DIE HARD 2 doesn’t exactly “Die Harder” as the original title suggested, but it’s still a damn good time, am I right? Renny Harlin replaced John McTiernan for this go-round, but the formula is adhered to pretty (too?) closely. Once again it’s Christmas Eve, and John McClane is looking forward to spending a restful holiday with his newly reconciled wife Holly. Too bad for John that a team of mercenaries has taken over the airport she's due to land at in order to free an imprisoned drug lord- but what a guy to do? After they down a commercial airliner, and threaten his wife’s plane, McClane has no choice but to kick some serious ass. While not as mind-blowing as the first one, it’s a great film in its own right. In a clever twist, McClane, after his exploits in the first film, is now a minor celebrity, and he’s constantly being recognized- to his chagrin, by people. Harlin was a pretty legit action director back then (CLIFFHANGER was a great Sly vehicle that just
missed this list, and even FORD FAIRLANE was pretty good), and the carnage is top notch. The snow mobile chase, and the icicle through the eye gag are classics.
Runners-up to the runner-up DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, THE RUNNING MAN, COMMANDO, CLIFFHANGER, and the 90 second HAMLET scene in LAST ACTION HERO. To be or not to be...Not to be.
COBRA is eighties cheese, but its GOOD eighties cheese. I recently rediscovered this movie on Blu-ray, and I had such a good time that I watched it again the next night. Sure- Sly’s “outfit” is a bit much, with the Judas Priest glasses, and the matchstick, but it works for the heightened reality on display here. I don’t think Sly took it too seriously, as midway through the film; the hardcore “giallo” vibe is ditched for hardcore action once Sly and his witness/love interest (his ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen- who must be a foot taller than him) are attacked by a literal army of axe-wielding maniacs. All the eighties hallmarks are here. There’s a triple digit body count, an insanely violent car-chase, a cool synth-score, and the love theme is sung by Bill Medley. Oh yeah, and Sly eats pizza with scissors. A guaranteed good time!
Bruce Willis is at his best in this tailor-made vehicle courtesy of writer Shane Black and director Tony Scott. Willis is great as Joe Hallenback, a one-time secret-service hero, who now ekes out a living as a P.I. He’s hired by an exotic dancer (played by a young Halle Berry) to find out who’s been stalking her, but once she ends up dead he teams up with her boyfriend, a drug-addicted ex-football player (Damon Wayans) for some payback. In the process they discover a plot to assassinate a US senator- in an effort to legalize big-time sports gambling. The action is great, but what REALLY makes THE LAST BOY SCOUT a classic is Black’s dialogue as spouted by Bruce Willis. “I wonder what it would take to make you scream” says a baddie to Bruce. “Play some rap music.”
TANGO & CASH features one of the all-time great action hero team-ups, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Given the production history (original director Andrei Konchalovsky of RUNAWAY TRAIN, was fired only a few days in, and replaced by at least two other directors) it’s amazing that TANGO & CASH turned out as well as it did. The action is fast and furious, the synth score by Harold Faltermeyer is a classic, and the give and take between Sly & Kurt is perfection. The shower scene alone has this classic exchange: Cash (Russell) bends over to pick up a bar of soap. “Whoa- what are you doing?” asks Tango (Sly). Cash: “RELAX. SOAP! And don’t flatter yourself…pee wee.” Tango: “Whatever you say Minnie Mouse.” From there- the bromance gets deeper and deeper- to the point that the final freeze frame is of them holding hands. Awwwwwwwwww.
TRUE LIES is the pinnacle of Arnie’s big-screen career. This re-teamed him with James Cameron in a high-tech mix of comedy and action, where secret agent Harry Tasker balances an international terrorist manhunt with a bored wife (Jamie Lee Curtis- who’s never been hotter) who may be cheating on him. While it gets bogged down a bit in the suburban comedy (a full forty-five minutes is devoted to him spying on his wife), the mix of comedy and drama opened this up to a really wide audience, and it was a huge money-maker. It’s bittersweet in that it marked Arnie last film with Cameron (to date) and the last really ultra-successful movie (also- to date) that he made in his prime. Hopefully Fox will get around to releasing a Blu-ray soon, as my non-anamorphic DVD is archaic.
DEMOLITION MAN is a much better film than most give it credit for. I think critics automatically dismissed this in ’93 due to the bias against Sly, but this futuristic actioner- pitting him against a villainous Wesley Snipes, is a really great little flick. Daniel Waters (of HEATHERS) did a re-write of this before it hit cameras, and his vision of the ultra-PC future is hilarious. Sex is banned. Swearing? Banned. Red Meat? Banned. Toilet paper? Try the three seashells. Music- OK, as long as it’s an old fifties jingle (“Jolly Green Giant” is a favorite). Luckily, nineties cop Sly is thawed out, and puts everything right within two hours- starting with dropping some f-bombs, and nailing Sandra Bullock (in her first big role). I really love this movie, and Sly seems game at taking the piss out of his own macho persona- such as his new-found passion for knitting- where he knits love interest Bullock a sweater to apologize for a clumsy pass. What a great movie- and one that’s due for re-evaluation. Also- the Schwarzenegger library? Oh Sly- how close you came to being proven right.
I love the concept of PREDATOR. Why not put Arnold Schwarzenegger, the prime specimen of human physical perfection, and have him do unarmed battle with an alien hunter? Under John McTiernan’s taut direction, PREDATOR starts off as a COMMANDO-style action movie where Arnie leads a jungle bound assault on drug-lords, but takes a turn into horror/sci-fi territory forty minutes in. The movie is full of iconic imagery, from the hanging, skinned corpses, to the Predator himself (‘you’re one UGLY mutherfucka”). As for Arnie- he’s totally in his prime, with him for once playing the underdog, as once he runs out of ammo and grunts, he has to embrace his more primal side, and use his intellect and brute strength to take out this alien menace. Naturally- the alien hasn’t got a chance. Of all Arnie’s movies- this is the one franchise I’d really like to see him return to. Imagine a sixty-five year old Dutch, way past his prime, forced to once again do battle with a Predator. It would be great.
Screw the remake- the only real TOTAL RECALL is the 1990 one with Arnold Schwarzenegger. A big movie for its time, boasting state of the art special FX (for 1990) and ultraviolent- frequently hilarious direction by Paul Verhoven (who REALLY needs to make another action movie)- TOTAL RECALL holds up like gangbusters. While it set a record for amount of on-screen kills, Arnie also brings a certain amount of compassion to his role, which is really (I think), the key to his success in the eighties/ nineties. He always seemed like a genuinely nice guy- and that came across on-screen. It doesn’t hurt that we also get a great score by Jerry Goldsmith, a badass Michael Ironside as the villain, and Sharon Stone at her sexiest (two years before BASIC INSTINCT) as his bad-girl wife. “Consider that a divorce!”
Stallone’s magnus opus- the RAMBO series is like the dark side of the ROCKY saga. Where Rocky is a family man, Rambo is a loner. Where Rocky is non-violent, save for using his fists in the ring, Rambo is only really at his best in war. Throughout the series, Sly does a great job portraying him as an essentially good man, haunted by his own talent for carnage. In FIRST BLOOD, he tries to re-adapt, but “the man” won’t let him. He redeems himself in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2 by going back to Vietnam, and single-handedly re-fighting (and winning) the war, while III, finds him once again trying to find peace, only to be drawn back into action. While the politics (especially III’s Afghanistan plot) are a little dated (this is really Cold War propaganda), they’re a great series of movies, and the most recent entry, RAMBO- is a fitting epilogue.
DIE HARD truly is the quintessential action movie. Bruce Willis, who made a sharp contrast to his fellow eighties action gods, Arnie and Sly, and mostly known for his work on MOONLIGHTING at the time, burst onto the scene in a big way with this. It was so iconic that twenty-five years later, he’s STILL playing John McClane. The premise- one man, alone, fighting a building full of terrorists, is a classic, and inspired a series of copycat clones that exist to this day (the upcoming WHITE HOUSE DOWN sounds curiously like DIE HARD in the White House). The action scenes are amazing, but it’s Willis’ smart-ass persona that makes this a classic. All around- a PERFECT movie. “Yippee Kay Yay motherfucker!”
As much as DIE HARD is a classic, there’s something about the one-two punch of James Cameron’s TERMINATOR movies that strikes an even deeper chord. Probably the reason is that, unlike any other film on the list, the TERMINATOR saga does a good job at pulling at the heart-strings, telling a very emotional tale of love that transcends time and even humanity. The first film is a pretty thrilling romance between Biehn’s Kyle Reese and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner. But the sequel, T2 is maybe even more grueling, with Arnie’s T-800 (a vicious baddie in the first film) learning humanity through his surrogate father bond with a young John Connor. Everything about these films is perfect- the music, the action, the FX. I especially like Linda Hamilton’s badass transformation from the first to second films, where she emerges a battle-scarred warrior- making her, after Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, the all time greatest action heroine.