The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Sylvester Stallone
To be sure, Sylvester Stallone's had his share of career ups and downs over his forty year career. From his early days doing movies like THE PARTY AT KITTY AND STUD's and DEATH RACE 2000, to his breakthrough with ROCKY, his career has been downright incredible. It reached dizzying heights, with his attaining superstar status in the eighties and early nineties thanks to the ongoing popularity of the ROCKY series and RAMBO, only to suffer a couple of setbacks when his career cooled in the nineties.
Rather than throw in the towel, Sly took a page out of his own Rocky underdog book, and reestablished his rep as an actor with COPLAND, and then engineered a comeback with new, gritty, contemporary installments of his biggest franchises, with ROCKY BALBOA and RAMBO. Shorty after, he started yet another franchise, with THE EXPENDABLES, which is still going strong, and has allowed him to share the screen with many of his action contemporaries, including Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Mel Gibson, and his long-time friendly rival Arnold Schwarzenegger. At sixty-seven, Sly is still built like an action hero, and always brings passion and enthusiasm to each project he undertakes, which can't be said for a lot of actors his age.
This is a tough one. I've been going back and forth between choosing Rocky or Rambo, and while I'm attached to both characters, I gotta give John Rambo the edge. It's just a fascinating character. A product of war, Sly still manages to convey the character's humanity throughout the series. He's capable of incredible ultra-violence, but also compassion, nicely illustrated by his refusal to take any lives in FIRST BLOOD , and his relationships with his fellow P.O.W's in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, and an Afghan war orphan in RAMBO III. To me, Sly will always be Rambo, and while I'd still love one last entry into the saga, I think the last film, RAMBO, ended the character's journey on a nice note.
I wouldn't say Sly's done a lot of movies that are “overrated”. He's a guy that's perennially underrated, although he's made his share of stinkers, none of which are diamonds in the rough. Movies like RHINESTONE, STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT and others are absolutely abysmal, but to me, one of the worst movies Sly's been involved with recently is BULLET TO THE HEAD. While certainly not as bad as those other films I listed, it was a major disappointment, especially having been directed by the great Walter Hill. Everyone involved is just capable of so-much more.
Now here's one that should intrigue all but the most devoted fans. While I was tempted to choose COBRA or DEMOLITION MAN, I think NIGHTHAWKS is a truly underrated choice. Released to very little fanfare in 1981, the year before his super-stardom peaked with FIRST BLOOD and ROCKY III, NIGHTHAWKS is a gritty thriller that cast Sly as a Serpico-like bearded NYC cop on the track of a cold-blooded international terrorist, played brilliantly by a terrifying Rutger Hauer. If it's sounds action-y, it's actually not, with this being more of a thriller, that according to the IMDB, actually began life as a script for a FRENCH CONNECTION sequel. It's violent and disturbing, with very little in the way of big-screen heroics from Stallone, but it's a hidden gem.
People love picking on Stallone for his heart-wrenching breakdown scene in FIRST BLOOD, and that's always bothered me. I think Sly's bloody brilliant here, and to think that people think this scene is somehow funny drives me nuts. It's a wonderful scene, and Sly's performance packs a wallop.
Sly's not slowing down, with ESCAPE PLAN this Friday, GRUDGE MATCH with Robert De Niro in December, and THE EXPENDABLES 3 next summer. Keep em' coming Sly!