Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Action Stars

Watching a lot of the big summer action movie previews really got me thinking about the fact we have no true action stars today. In fact, studios seem do desperate to get a new one that they started promoting a lot of their action vehicles with that claim. Remember the original "XXX" campaign boasting Vin Diesel as the next Schwarzenegger. Then he doesn't even do the sequel, and his last movie was "The Pacifier" where I guess he was trying to stretch like Schwarzenegger did with "Kindergarten Cop" back in the eighties, or maybe that was 1990, but you know what I mean.

In the eighties we had Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Bruce Willis. These guys were making big action film after big action film. And not all of them were good by any means, but they stuck to the formula and produced a lot of big hits. Before that, I guess you could say Burt Reynolds was the big action star with movies like "Smokey and the Bandit" and the sequels along with "Sharky's Machine," "Gator," "City Heat," and so on. Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne had their heydays in the sixties and seventies. But the late nineties and early 21st century has just produced a bunch of test subjects that haven't amounted to anything.

Look at Schwarzenegger's reign throuhgout the eighties and into the early nineties. "Terminator 1 & 2," "Predator," "The Running Man," "Red Heat," "True Lies," the "Conan" movies, and "Total Recall." Not one actor since then that has been touted as the next action star has managed to come even close to that kind of resume. Even when Schwarzenegger came back two years ago in "T3: Rise of the Machines," it was obvious that no one could match his prowess on screen; he might not be the best actor out there, but it's arguable there has been no one to match that kind of prescence on the big screen.

If this was the eighties, Bruce Willis would be tackling the aliens in "War of the Worlds," Schwarzenegger would be the Thing in "The Fantastic Four," and Sylvester Stallone would be wooing Michelle Pfeiffer in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Instead we have the so called sensitive action sensibilites of Tom Cruise (W of the W) and Brad Pitt (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and Michael (The Shield) Chilkis taking on the Thing (Fantastic Four). And that's not necessarilly bad, but I kind of miss having that one big ridiculously bulked he-man taking out aliens, terrorists, and whatever else causes problems to all of us puny Americans at least a couple times a year.

And maybe people don't want those ridiculous testosterone induced mega budget films anymore. But if we did, who the hell would take over in them anyways? Vin Diesel? Hugh Jackman? Clive Owen? Sure as hell won't be Nicholas Cage I hope. It seems like today's big budget action pictures, ala "Sahara," while not bad, are trying too hard to add a lot of points and meanings to these over the top shenanigans. Most of the time, this is by throwing in our PC minded "Save the Environment" jargon. I kind of miss my action pictures being about nothing more than kicking ass and taking names, and maybe throw in a few cool one-liners. Maybe I've lost my mind, but it's nice to have a popcorn movie every once in a while; do we really need an environmental issue brought up in the middle of it? John Rambo would have taken that tree humping hippie out of the equation just so he could get on to killing the bad guys, and in movies there should be nothing wrong with that either.


At 5/04/2005 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

You referred to PC-minds in this post, and I happen to think much of the old action way went by the wayside for various reasons in the early 90s. In no order:

1. The fall of communist Russia.

With Russia gone, there were no faceless enemies that Americans could hate. And there was nothing PC about the hate of the Russians. Russians and Americans hated each other with relish--it was a game. We turned to the Arabs, but since Arabs aren't white, hating them has a racial connotation, even though the ire against them is no different than from the Cold War Russians.

2. True Lies

That was the last film Schwarzenegger could truly call himself an action star in, and with all the hubbub about Arab-hating, action movies didn't have a worthy target anymore. In an action movie, you must have a just cause, even if your movie is just mindless killing.

3. Columbine, et al

This happened in 1999, and the action star as we know it was already going down the tubes, but after Columbine, Congress started exerting pressure on Hollywood to start toning down violence. Hell, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" couldn't even run one of their best episodes after that.

4. Comic Book Movies

The "Batman" franchise will see it's 4th different face in 15 years, even though the new "Batman" is not a part of the previous series, but it just proves the point that anyone dashing and good-looking can fit the bill. "Spider-Man 2" was one of the best action pictures I'd seen in a long time, but Tobey Maguire is not the reason (although I do like him).

5. The cost

Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis all got way too big. At $20 million per picture, a studio was already gambling with a film. You might blame Columbia Pictures for this, who had just been bought by Sony. It's all in "Hit And Run" by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters, how the Japanese company overpaid for the studio, dying to get into the movie business, and let two guys who had just produced "Batman" run it in Jon Peters and Peter Guber. Everything skyrocketed. Schwarzenegger got $15 million for 1993's "Last Action Hero," a precedent set by Stallone with "Cliffhanger" in 1992. And I believe Willis got close to that with "Hudson Hawk." As we all know, "Last Action Hero" and "Hudson Hawk" tanked, and "Cliffhanger" was a costly hit.

I'd say that the 5th reason is the most important, mainly because as soon as anyone makes an action flick that makes lots of money, they want $20 million, and it happened with Vin Diesel when it came time for a sequel to "The Fast and the Furious." I think that's the reason why we don't see a recurring face and they're all interchangeable.

At 5/04/2005 05:32:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree on all points you made, and I was only referring to one possible reason, but there are obviously many out there. I also was not saying there were not good action films out there, ala "Spiderman 2," but that the action star has gone by the wayside. Like you said, Tobey Maguire was not the reason. While he did a good job in the role there are probably at least 10 other actors out there that could have done the same thing.

You could almost say the villains have become more profound than the heroes, and with your first point this actually could make some sense. If we're running out of the stereotypical enemies (the Russians, the terrorists) then screenwriters and directors like to create these larger than life evil dictators who are trying to take over the world. More time seems to be given to developing their character and performance than the heroes. If you watch the first four Batman films, I can almost guarantee the villain's screen time compared to Batman's is probably 2:1 if not more. And this is also why a lot of action films just don't work as well anymore. Rooting for the villain in the long run kind of makes for a half-assed story.


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