Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part II

Over The Top
As much as I loathe Cobra, it's still possible to dismiss it alongside Rhinestone as a well intentioned failure. I forgive him for wanting to make a musical comedy, just as I forgive him for wanting to make his generation's Dirty Harry. After all, the main villain and Clint's sidekick from Harry were both in Cobra.

But Over The Top marks the turning point in Stallone's career where he literally goes over the top, into all-out film insanity. There's no going back from this point. After making Over the Top, his career as a laughing stock becomes complete, and the two Oscar nominations he received for Rocky are nothing more than distant memories.

In other words, this is just a stupid, stupid movie. It's just your typical coming of age movie about a widower who tries to reconcile with his son by taking him on a cross-country road trip in his tractor trailer truck so he can compete in an armwrestling championship in Las Vegas. You know, that old plot.

The coda of this movie is that the winner takes it all, loser takes the fall. That was either based on a line written by Shakespeare, or maybe Sammy Hagar. Anyway, this is a terrible movie, but it's one that's a definite must-see for Stallone fans.

But, you know, you won't like it.

Rambo III
In all seriousness, Stallone's greatest talent as a filmmaker has always been his ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist of his time. This has also been one of his greatest faults, because while his films perfectly appeal to a contemporary audience, they don't always hold up perfectly for posterity. And few of his films hold up worse than Rambo III.

Just watch this scene:

Those freedom fighters Trautman is talking about? Some of them grew into the Taliban. That's right, this movie is about how the Americans aided the Afghan freedom fighters against the evil Russian empire. We aided them by giving them guns, supplies, and that most dangerous weapon of all, John J. Rambo.

So you can see how that speech warning against getting into a land war with insurgents in the middle east has taken on a far different meaning these days. And that's a shame, because this is otherwise an awesome action film with some amazing set pieces. Sure, it's also stupid and impossible to believe, but it's also awesome. It's also far too cartoonish and turns the formerly laconic, brooding Rambo into a wisecracking jackass. But that's ok. Most of his jokes are pretty funny.

It may not hold up -- or, at least, it holds up in a vastly different way -- but it's still a pretty good, dumb action movie.

Lock Up
I love this movie.

Now, when discussing Sylvester Stallone, you have to remember you're referring to two men. There's the fantastically talented actor/writer/director who has made such films as Rocky, First Blood, and Nighthawks. Then there is the big, dumb jackass who coasted his way through films like this one. And, damn it all, I love both of those men, but I sure wish we had seen more movies made by the first one.

But I'll settle for watching Lock Up.

Here's the plot: Stallone plays Frank Leone, a convict a few months shy of his release, who is transferred to a maximum security prison because the evil warden wants revenge because he was the only man who ever escaped on his watch... or something. That plot was later ripped off by Frank Darabont when he made Shawshank Redemption. Just kidding.

It's hard to argue that any Stallone film could be stupider than Over the Top, but Lock Up sure tries to give it a run for its money.

I wish I was watching this movie right now.

Tango and Cash
Say what you will about Stallone's movies being dumb and violent and hard to believe, at least they're never boring. But this one kind of comes close. It's just not that good of a movie, but maybe because everybody expected so much more.

In the late 80s and early 90s, the buddy cop film was king. Buddy films have been around since the dawn of cinema (I'm pretty sure Alexander Graham Bell filmed the first buddy film about Sacco and Vanzetti), but this period was the golden age of the buddy cop film. So the idea of teaming Stallone up with Kurt Russell should've been the greatest buddy cop film of all time. But it didn't really work out that way.

Why did this film fail? Who's to say? Was it because both Stallone and Russell are such larger than life leading men that pairing them up only served to dilute each's star power? Maybe, but I think it was because the script sucked and because Andrei Konchalovsky was a terrible director. I've seen this movie. I've sat through this movie. But I hardly remember this movie. It was neither good enough to be worth watching nor dumb enough to stand out amongst Stallone's other films. But I'm sure somewhere, on aother blog, some fan of Kurt Russell is giving a respective of his care5er and loved this movie. And, if not, I guess I'll have to do that one too.

Oh, and just for the record, Stallone played Tango.

Rocky V
A lot of people hate Rocky V, but I don't get it. Sure, it's not a very good movie, but when was the last time Stallone made a good movie, let alone a very good movie? What, Rocky V doesn't live up to the high standard of quality left by Rocky IV? The reason Rocky V isn't as beloved as the other films in the series is because it isn't bad enough.

In fact, Rocky V is actually a pretty good movie, and that's why it leaves Stallone fans in such confusion. Stallone fans aren't familiar with movies that are pretty good. They are familiar with films that are great (Rocky, First Blood) and films that are terrible (well... every other film he's made), but not with films that are, you know, pretty good.

This film's main fault is that it's not as stupid and over the top as Rocky III and IV. That's probably because it was the first Rocky film since the first one that was directed by John Avildsen. John Avildsen is a different kind of director than Stallone in that he actually allows scenes to unfold with a certain amount of subtlety, and he champions story over spectacle.

But, more than that, this is a story that is about character instead of plot, which is a huge 360 after the last few Rocky films. So don't ask me if this is a good film or a bad film. All I know is that it's a Rocky film. So that means I watch it whenever it's on, no questions asked. But I'd rather watch any of the other ones, for whatever that's worth.

When I first started this post, I forgot I'd have to talk about movies like Oscar.

Now, Oscar is a bad movie. Let's just get that out of the way. It's a boring, unfunny, obnoxious film billed as a comedy. It's bad. It's not funny. But we don't need to rub that in.

Let's look at this film from Stallone's perspective. Let's say you were offered to star in a comedy film directed by John Landis, a true legend of the genre. Let's say the script was written by Michael Barrie, a former writer for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. And let's say it was based on, well, some kind of stage play. You'd turn it down? What if you conveyed your fears about being to pull it off to John Landis and he assured you you'd be hilarious? You'd still say no?

So let's lay off Stallone, ok?

But it's still a horrible movie.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Remember how I just went out of my way to defend Stallone's decision to star in Oscar? Well, I can't do that with this movie? After the disaster that was his last movie, his next movie should've been Rocky VI or Rambo IV. But no... he followed it up with another comedy.

I just don't know what to say. This is the beginning of the end for one of my all time favorite actors. Reviewing these movies now is like being a time traveler who is forced to go into the past even though he can't change anything for the better.

Finally another action movie! And it's a pretty good one! I still remember when this movie first came out in the theatre. Specifically, I remember finally not being embarrassed to see a new Stallone film in the theatre. And I wasn't disappointed. This is one of my favorite of Stallone's non Rocky/Rambo films.

It's a film about a cliff... guy who... has to fight John Lithgow in... some mountains. Or something. Wait a minute... what is the plot of this movie? I just remember a bunch of cool action sequences that take place in the mountains. And that's the sign of a great action movie, in my opinion. If you come away from a movie remembering the action and not the plot, you probably had a good time.

Demolition Man
Now that's what I'm talkin' about! Demolition Man is important for two reasons: First of all, it's one of Stallone's most entertaining movies. Second of all, it's his last great movie for a long, long time. Oh, and it's also his first foray into the sci-fi genre. Unless you're counting Over the Top. There's no way that movie took place on the planet Earth.

This movie is so much fun for so many reasons: The dopey future society they created, Wesley Snipes's over the top performance as the bad guy, Dan Cortese as a lounge singer who only performs jingles from TV commercials. This movie has it all. It's sci-fi, it's an action movie, it's a comedy, it's a cultural satire. But, bottom line, it's one of Stallone's best and one of the most entertaining movies of all time.

1 comment:

tep said...

"winner takes it all, loser takes the fall"

it's abba, dude.