The Good, the Bad & the Badass: Wesley Snipes
Last week, we examined the fifty year career of multi-hyphenate Clint Eastwood. This week's subject is another macho icon, albeit one whose career has certainly had its share of ups and down.
Regardless of whether or not THE EXPENDABLES 3 pays-off for fans (and our own Paul Shirey suggests it does), its release Friday is a major event for action movie fans everywhere, in that it welcomes back to the screen one of our long-lost icons, Wesley Snipes. Granted, the man couldn't really help being absent for such a long time. But even before his jail sentence for tax evasion, Snipes was being wasted in a series of deadly-dull DTV films that were clearly below the talents of one of the real icons of 1990's action cinema. Now, Snipes is back in a big way, ready to move into the next phase of his career. Could a big action comeback be just around the corner?
Certainly, Snipes seems more than capable of reestablishing himself. Even outside the action genre, he's a guy to be taken seriously. He first made a splash as Michael Jackson's street-smart adversary in the video for “Bad” before popping up in smallish parts in terrific films like KING OF NEW YORK and MAJOR LEAGUE.
It was his performances in NEW JACK CITY ,Spike Lee's MO' BETTER BLUES and JUNGLE FEVER that really kicked his career into high gear, and PASSENGER 57 made him an action icon, which is status he arguably maintains to this day. The highest point of his career sadly leads into his lowest point, with the smash success of BLADE & BLADE II leading into a disastrous third sequel, with stories from the set making him sound profoundly troubled (to put it mildly) and its failure at the box office derailing both the franchise, and his career. Yet, in his time Snipes was one of the biggest stars in town, and being one of the younger EXPENDABLES (fifty-two) it feels like he has the most to gain from its success.
Nino Brown is one bad mutherf**ka. While no one would ever confuse his turn in NEW JACK CITY for one of the legions of action heroes he played, its impact cannot be denied. While the movie is severely dated, Mario Van Peebles tale of the crack epidemic in NYC during the eighties remains a somewhat enduring cult classic, and a lot of that is due to Snipes' insanely charismatic turn as the ice-cold villain at the heart. Snipes doesn't shy away at all from making Brown a monster, with him killing-off his friends, and using a toddler as a human shield during a shootout. Yet, you can't help but get lost in the character, with Snipes being a kind of mid-nineties variation on the types of parts James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson used to play in their heyday. For a large chunk of his fanbase, Snipes will always be Nino Brown. "Sit your five dollar ass down before I make change!"
Given that everyone seems to agree TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR is a terrible film, I'll avoid writing that up here, even though it was something of a box-office hit in its time. To me, Snipes' most overrated action vehicle is THE ART OF WAR, which still has a kind of cult status, and even got a DTV sequel. This could have been a great movie, with Snipes playing a James Bond-style secret agent, and Michael Biehn as the bad guy. What went wrong? Director Christian Duguay, that's what. Duguay did a great movie in the late nineties called THE ASSIGNMENT, which made him a hot director for awhile, but for some reason he took what could have been a cool little action flick, and ruined it with the most pretentious, faux-arty action direction I've ever seen in an action flick outside of Kaos' hack job on BALLISTIC: ECKS VS SEVER. None of the action scenes work (with the MATRIX rip-off FX unintentionally hilarious), and the performances are so poorly directed that it feels like the entire film got ADR'd to try and salvage it, which only makes it come off even worse. What a disaster, and yet some people still seem to think it's one of Snipes' better movies. What's sad is it could have been.
Antoine Fuqua's BROOKLYN'S FINEST was unfairly attacked when it hit theaters. Part of this may be due to the fact that following its Sundance debut, it was butchered by the distributor, ruining the original dark ending (which had Richard Gere's troubled cop commit suicide – something which is foreshadowed throughout). What's really strange is how Snipes' performance was so overlooked, with him playing a kind of older, wiser variation on the Nino Brown character, as a drug lord fresh out of jail, and trying to get out of the game. His scenes with Don Cheadle, as the undercover cop who struggles with his loyalty to Snipes, are really terrific, and while far from perfect it's a solid flick.
While some might assume my choice would be the classic rave shootout in BLADE (famously scored by New Order's “Confusion”), I gotta go with “always bet on black” from PASSENGER 57. While it may seem a bit cheesy, you have to remember that in 1992, Snipes was pretty much the only black mainstream action hero, and having him joust with the white villain, and take the wind out of his sails with this badass line made audiences stand up and cheer him on. It helps that PASSENGER 57 is one tight little action flick, well-worth re-watching if you haven't seen it in awhile. This is Snipes at his best.
Snipes doesn't seem to have much in the works just yet, but hopefully once people see him in THE EXPENDABLES 3, he'll get some interesting projects lined-up. One that seems like a no-brainer is a fourth BLADE film, which needs to happen. Marvel – get on it!
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...