Aftermath [mild spoilers]: follows two men after a fatal airplane collision that changes their lives forever. The film starts with a relentlessly grim and drawn-out opening act in which both leads deal with the shock of their situation, frequently tipping over into forced melodrama; it’s all very burdensome and somber. Where the film really fails to deliver is after a 70 minute gloomy setup; the ‘climactic payoff’ is far too brief, and then we get a post-script ‘years later’ scene that you could see coming a mile off. Stylistically, the film is equally austere, with a grayed out colour palate; it starts at Christmas for no real reason than to crank up the sorrow-o-meter; and contains some rather clunky imagery & parallels between the leads’ lives. Strangely, the movie takes a powerful real-life story and changes core elements that ultimately lessens the story’s impact in the fictionalized movie version. I’m a huge Arnie fan – and think he’s a better actor than he’s generally given credit for – however this film asks a little too much of him: there are moments where you can see him struggle with the emotions. Scoot McNairy is rather good, but doesn’t get a lot of gears to change through. From the director of Bltiz (a solid police action/drama) the lack of action and tunneled focus on tragedy feels like a huge – but just-missed – leap. Aftermath is by no means a bad film, but it is a very heavy film about a very heavy subject that you’d need to be in a particular mood to watch.
Red Heat: a Russian and American cop are forced together to capture a nasty drug dealer that’s killed their colleagues on both sides of the globe. With the opening sequence starting in a nearly-nude Soviet sauna/spa and culminating in a naked snow-fight you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally bought a gay porno; and when you’re finally settling back in to the movie… BOOM… another homoerotic shower scene with Arnie. The rest of the film is pinned on the culture clash of a stereotyped disciplined and ‘barbaric’ Soviet paired with a schlubby ‘wimpy’ American – aren’t culture clashes funny? LOL! We get everything from misunderstood slang (“You’re shitting me?” / “I’m not shitting on you”) through to plain old “I give up: this whole thing is very Russian!” <rolls eyes>. It sounds hammy, and some of it is, but it’s entertaining and carries the film: distracting you from the generic plot. It’s one of Arnie’s more challenging roles at that point, and he just about pulls it off as an Austrian speaking English with a Russian accent (MIND BLOWN!), which has led to the film becoming a cult movie in Russian speaking territories. It’s light on action, but when guns are blazing it’s satisfactory and brainless stuff like firing a six-shooter 18 times without reloading, and a Chicago bus carnage finale. Tonally, the film straddles a gulf between the wacky and light-hearted cop-pairing, and an ultra-evil bad guy / drugs / violence / nudity angle. Released in the mid-1980s – before the end of the Cold War – I suspect it had more going for it; however, looking back, it’s pretty unremarkable. Red Heat is a buddy-cop movie that ticks the boxes, but isn’t quite funny or action-packed to stand out.
“Moscow’s toughest detective. Chicago’s craziest cop. There’s only one thing more dangerous than making them mad: making them partners.”
Raw Deal: after his dismissal for roughing up bad guys a disgraced but loyal ex-FBI agent is called back into action to infiltrate and prosecute a Chicago mob. This film is somewhat unique for its wildly uneven tone that jumps between bawdy and camp comedy (“You shouldn’t drink and bake at the same time, aye aye aye”) in one scene, and in the next he’s probably tossin’ grown men across rooms before shooting them in the face. There’s a good number of action scenes and they’re mostly centred around TOTAL HAVOC and MAXIMUM DESTRUCTION; Arnie blows up an entire chemical plant to fake his own death, drives a tow-truck through a building, has an epic nightclub shootout, demolishes a construction site… There’s even a five-minute scene of Arnie just cocking, locking, and loading a suitcase full of guns before his final rampage. The rest of the film is fairly by-the-numbers; old guys in suits being corrupt, comically inept Chicago mobsters who couldn’t whack a whack-a-mole, let alone a bozo wiseguy. The direction is good, but unremarkable, other than a Jaws dolly zoom shot. Sitting between Terminator/Red Sonia/Commando and Predator/Running Man – this ‘c-c-c-combo-breaker’ film has understandably become an overlooked entry in the Arnie Oeuvre – sure it’s a fun way of spending 110 mins with him, but lacks the elements of a ‘Classic’ Arnold outing – with the film’s pitiful ‘zinger’ (“Resign or be prosecuted“) being a prime example of this.
Sabotage: a D.E.A. legend and his off-the-rails team of undercover NARCs are being hunted down by a cartel for skimming off $10M of the gang’s money in a recent raid. I know, I know, this one’s never going to win any awards – but in a world where studios are pussying out of 18-rated movies right, left, and center this is like a breath of fresh (or rotten) air. A dark, violent, dingy film that harks back to the 70s–90s cop films that had plenty of grit and edge. From the writer of Training Day, Street Kings and End of Watch you know you’re in good hands here. Machismo’d to the rafters, there’s a whole lot of big-dick swinging, heavy swearing, ‘cop banter’ – and the women in here are strippers, ‘sluts’ or a general nuisances to the lads. The story’s not as black-and-white as it first seems, and neither are the characters – as the film balances both intense action scenes with a well-crafted thriller storyline. You either love these sort of films, or you hate ‘em; and for me, Sabotage is a decent, violent cop film with a rock-solid ensemble cast and an interesting enough story to keep you tuned in.
Escape Plan: a security expert that escapes from prisons for a living is betrayed and put in an ‘INESCAPABLE’ prison – which he has to team up with Arnie to escape from. Inescapable FAIL. Even as a huge fan of ‘supercheese’, I’ve had enough of these Stallone vanity projects in which he portrays himself as a super-human, super-intelligent (has he heard himself speak?) super-cool guy that women just want to bang 24/7. You’re past you’re prime, and an average actor at best – so please stop these dude! For a no-brainer action flick about a prison-break starring two action legends it’s at least 30 minutes too long, (far too much backstory) and feels around 3 hours long. The only time it comes to life is when Arnie is on the screen – peaking in “Arnie firing a massive gun at dozens of guards and exploding shit”, and “Arnie losing his shit, in German” scenes. The director’s vision of a futuristic jail was cool (touch of Face/Off); the guards sufficiently evil-looking (touch of 300); and the main villain was suitably theatrical (touch of ridiculousness). It feels like Stallone insisted on having far too many ego-massaging, but wholly unnecessary, boring scenes into what should have been a 90-minute brain-free, action-laden, danger-zone, and Arnie’s left save this cliffhanger from falling into the pits of terribility.
Welcome to the Jungle (AKA The Rundown): a bounty hunter (“retrieval expert”) is pulled out of retirement for one last job, but gets draggedinto a treasure hunt in the amazon. OMG WTF Arnie one-line Cameo – within the first 90 seconds!?!?!? So this film’s got a half-decent cast: Christopher Walken (obviously totally broke) , Sean William-Scott (Stiffler forever), and Dwayne (Always The Rock) Johnson – when he was a potentially decent action hero. The story’s fairly average, the script has some great jokes (but plenty of stinkers too), and it has the biggest ‘fall down a hill’ since Hot Rod. The film bounces along, never really knowing whether to be funny or serious – but remains fairly entertaining for the duration. The best bits that perked it up are the action scenes – there’s a few sweet fights, some clever wire-work, and other frenetic/lively moments like the boulder dash – if there’s a star to be found in this one, it’s probably the fight coordinator, Andy Cheng. Welcome to the Jungle is equally enjoyable and predictable – although at least you know what you’re getting!
The Last Stand: as an escaped cartel leader speeds towards freedom at the USA-Mexico border, his last obstacle is a badass sheriff, and his unlikely crew of deputies. It’s nothing short of jaw-dropping when you see Arnie‘s total lack of acting skill and inability to construct sentences in English, especially given his on and off-screen careers! Still, his presence and entertainment factor are still there in abundance, and far outweigh his shortcomings. The supporting cast all did a decent job, and I love how massive foreign film stars always get drafted in as default action bad-guys. For me, this was missing a lot of director’s signature style and flair, other than the odd jaunty angle, although he really shines throughout the finalé and brilliantly handled action scenes – escape sequence, shoot out – as well as general stunt driving / automotive action. There’s also, a load of funny moments, and one-liners, that are far superior to Arnie’s groan-inducing cheesy quips. A cynic would point out that The Last Stand is a formulaic ‘outumbered & out-gunned’ story, with as many rookie cop / small-town cop / FBI / Cartel tropes that you could squeeze in… but when a world-class director meets an action legend, its explosive entertainment.
The Expendables 2: when they’re ambushed during a simple job the team have to avenge a fallen comrade… and shoot the crap out of anything that gets in their way. First off, the costume department deserve a medal; these guys are going in to action with cardigans, wooly jumpers, trench coats, French berets, designer jeans, cashmere scarves – they’re the most metrosexual mercenaries on the planet! The action is a whole other level of ace… blood, guts, explosions, limbs flying, heads exploding, bullet-riddled bodies dropping everywhere – only downside is that everything from the weapons to entire set pieces feel like copy/paste jobs from recent Call of Duty games. The majority of the runtime is like eating a cheese sandwich, made with cheesy bread whilst drinking mozzarella brine, but in a totally knowing, tongue in cheek fashion – like Willis and Arnie mocking each others characters and catchphrases. Lundgren should be singled out as a great sport, being the butt of almost every scene & joke. My only
real petty concern is that there’s only one big/famous baddie – and considering some of the iconic action villains over the years, it’s the only thing they could really have done with upping. Having a real director makes such a big difference – everything is improved, although the comic timing is so far out that it’s embarrassing to watch (but does help add to the cheese-effect). The Expendables is essentially the male equivalent of Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve – an ensemble of big names that puts an entire demographic’s bums on seats, and where everything else is secondary. In saying that, there’s still something inherently satisfying and watchable about seeing Willis / Arnie / Norris and co firing big guns at things. Expendables 2 is a highly enjoyable Action/Comedy romp – it’ll be difficult to top.