Everybody Must Get Stalloned: Judge Dredd (1993), Tango & Cash (1989) and Over The Top (1987)

stallone four film favorite I don’t know about you guys, but as I get older, I find myself more likely to go back and watch a movie that I had a good time with over one that I actual revere. For instance, I absolutely adore The Usual Suspects and Reservoir Dogs. I discovered both movies in high school and they each changed my brain when it came to how you could tell a story and how film can work in different ways. And yet, I haven’t watched either film in several years. Instead, I seem to spend my time watching and craving more disposable, less “good” offerings like this 4 Film Favorites: Sylvester Stallone DVD 4-pack I recently picked up. I think a big reason for that is that I don’t always want to get too emotionally invested or have my brain messed with. I usually just want to sit down, have fun and maybe get some work or writing done in the process. Yes, that makes me a lazy film fan, but that’s how it is for me these days.

With that in mind, I’ve burned through three of the four movies in this set. As it happens, it’s the three I’ve seen before: Tango & Cash, Demolition Man and Over The Top. I’ve never watched The Specialist, but hope to give it it’s own review  later this week or next, it depends on my work schedule and, more importantly, when and if my kid naps.  But I figured it would be fun to lay down a few thoughts on these movies.

demolition man poster I actually thought I wrote about Demolition Man here on the blog before. I want to say I watched it around the same time I first saw Judge Dredd. Both movies have sci-fi settings, militaristic uniforms, Stallone teaming up with a bad ass leading lady and, inexplicably, appearances by Rob Schneider. Don’t be scared away, though, Schneider’s actually more restrained than I’ve ever seen him before. Wesley Snipes, however is not, but more on that in a minute.

In this one, Stallone plays a cop in the future, 1996 to be exact. The film came out in 1993 when LA was in a shambles and gang violence was a huge source of worry both in real life and on the big screen. Stallone’s John Spartan is a cop with the nickname Demolition Man because he goes into crazy situations and gets the bad guy, but leaves a swathe of destruction in his wake. In the beginning of the movie, he’s going after Snipes’ Simon Phoenix, a major gang kingpin who is never not wearing something silly. Phoenix sets Spartan up and the two wind up getting frozen which is what they do with criminals instead of sending them to jail.

Inexplicably, Phoenix wakes up in the future and starts running amok. It helps that this is a future where everything dangerous, from gasoline to sex, has been outlawed. Hell, they even outlawed swearing to the point where you get fined if you let loose a curse word in a public place. It’s a surprisingly dense and weird world. Taco Bell won the franchise wars, so now every restaurant is a TB, of course. Since Phoenix is basically running ripshot over the police force, they thaw Spartan out and he goes about his business, kicking ass and taking names.

One of the nice things about this four movie set is that it gives you a really good representation of Stallone’s career. In Demolition Man, he’s the stoic warrior, a guy who just wants to get in there, kick ass, punish the bad guy and save the innocents. That’s not a particularly complicated persona to take on, but it is always convincing when he does it. Meanwhile, his co-stars do an admirable job in their own roles. Sandra Bullock plays the 90s-obsessed, action-desiring cop that Stallone winds up partnered with. Benjamin Bratt is the by-the-book lame-o cop. Dennis Leary’s the freedom-loving underground rebel. Nigel Hawthorne’s the evil billionaire pulling more strings than I can keep up with. Also, for what it’s worth, I completely agree with the idea presented in the episode of How Did This Get Made covering this movie that Bullock is actually Stallone’s daughter, which adds a lot of weird layers to the proceedings.

And then you have Snipes. Man, this guy’s not a great actor. I realized this while watching Drop Zone recently. He’s just super-wooden and, even when he’s playing an over-the-top psychopath, he never really feels convincing. He always seems like a guy trying to act like another guy, but never really nailing it. “This is how a crazy guy would be right? Right? Okay, I’ll go with it.” He doesn’t really detract from the movie because it comes off as somewhat farcical all around, but I think the movie would have been a bit more grounded with a better bad guy.

tango and cash Tango & Cash is always a surprise to me. It’s a movie I think I heard more about growing up and later on into my 20s than I actually ever saw. In my mind it holds a place in the pantheon of awesome action movies, but the last few times I watched it, it left me shaking my head a bit.

Like I said the last time I watched and reviewed this movie, the sheer number of puns and one-liners spit out by stars Stallone and Kurt Russell are head-spinning. These guys throw them out like a madman has a gun aimed at them off screen and will shoot them if they don’t make like a Borscht Belt comedian getting heckled. It can be too much at times, especially when the tension is supposed to be high and these two chuckleheads can’t stop cracking wise.

Said tension comes when two of the most famous cops around get framed for killing a guy by Jack Palance. They’re introduced, each have a drug bust, meet one other, get framed, go through a trial, go to jail, fight a small army of criminals and break out of prison in the film’s first half hour or so. From there they try to figure out who framed them, Russell falls for Stallone’s sister Teri Hatcher (an exotic dancer who incorporates drums into her act!) and then they go up against Palance and his goons in an epic, end-of-movie siege. It’s a lot for a 90 minute movie, you guys.

It’s really too bad that the producers wanted a funnier movie instead of a more straightforward buddy action movie starring Stallone and Russell. The problem here unfortunately lies on Stallone’s shoulders. He’s just not great at playing this character, a slick, rich hotshot who fires off jokes in the face of danger. He’s great at parts of all those things, but putting them all together into one role didn’t really work out too well. Actually, I think there’s plenty of raw material on the screen to cut into a more serious film (serious, but still fun). You could easily make this thing at least 20% cooler just by using the mute button. Still, the end of this movie is rad — even if it does involve an LAPD-sanctioned weapons lab complete with a tour that would make James Bond pop his cork prematurely — and is worth all the craziness presented up front.

over the top poster While I tend to place Tango & Cash on a higher plane in my mind, I also find myself looking down on Over The Top a bit, but it’s actually a pretty great movie. Turns out I wrote about this one on the blog already too, but wanted to say a few more things. Yes, this is “the arm wrestling movie” which sounds silly, but it’s actually a well balanced, well acted movie about a man trying to reunite with his son at the behest of his terminally ill ex wife. That right there sounds like something out of an Oscar picture, but this one also happens to have a semi-truck driving Sylvester Stallone in the lead role as Lincoln Hawk, an evil Robert Loggia and the world arm wrestling championship in Las Vegas. Oh, and a kid somehow escaping from a mansion, stealing a car, getting on an airplane and getting into said arm wrestling championship.

So, it’s not the most grounded movie in the world, but this is Stallone at his best. He’s a simple guy with simple motives just trying to make things right. At times he reminded me of his performance in First Blood, where he’s just a guy trying to walk through town and find a friend who gets pushed too far by people who don’t understand him. He’s not the overly slick guy in Tango & Cash or the on-the-surface lawman of Demolition Man, he’s a real guy — a dad –earnestly trying his best.

I realized something while watching this movie, it’s actually a lot closer to the movies I used to watch as a kid than the action movies I gravitated to as I got older. When you think about it, there’s a lot of the same elements in The Wizard as in Over The Top. You’ve got a father and son making their way across part of the country, experiencing obstacles to their relationship and even a big competition in Vegas at the end.  Heck, there’s even a scene in Over The Top where you can see all kinds of Nintendo logos on some video game cabinets in a diner. Synergy! There’s also very little physical violence in the movie if memory serves. Sure, Stallone drives his truck through Loggia’s front door and he arm wrestles a small army of giant, sweaty biceps with bodies attached to them, but this isn’t your usual slug or bulletfest, which actually makes it a pretty good Stallone movie to watch with your kids. Who woulda thought?!

Even though I had a few complaints about each of these movies, I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed myself while giving them another watch. I’m glad I got my hands on that DVD set because, even though they’re not the high quality Blu-ray I prefer these days, they are presented in an affordable manner that allows me to revisit these flicks any time I want. As an added bonus, there’s actually a commentary track on the Demolition Man disc that I’ve got to listen to!

Friday Fisticuffs: Safe (2012)

safe poster I think I just fell in love with a movie and it’s called Safe. Of course, being a huge Jason Statham fan, I wanted to check this flick out with a quickness after seeing it had been added to Netflix Instant. And, as it turns out, it might actually be the quintessential Statham movie. Not only does it include the kind of ass-kickery you’ve come to expect from franchises like Crank and The Transporter, but it’s also got some pretty sick driving, gun play and the dramatic gravitas I think Statham brings to every role, but is more well-featured in films like The Bank Job, War and even Blitz. I fully believe that Statham is a really fantastic actor who also happens to be awesome at kicking dudes in the face, so the latter wins out over the former. Safe happens to be the the kind of film that lets him show off his many facets.

This time around, Statham plays a one-time cop turned cage fighter who doesn’t take a fall when he’s supposed to and winds up peeving off the Russian mob. They kill his wife and tell him he better go on the run, but add that they’ll be watching and will kill anyone who’s even remotely nice to him, a threat they make good on. Meanwhile, there’s a young girl named Mei in China who’s super good at math and winds up getting kidnapped by the mob. The mob boss, played of course by James Hong, sent her over to the States because her memory doesn’t leave a trace like a computer would. She gets thrown into this crazy gangster world which is not easy on her. The Russian mob finds out about her and starts a war with the Chinese to get her and whatever secrets her brain holds. As it happens, Statham meets Wei in the subway and decides to keep her safe.

When I heard that Safe was about Statham protecting a kid, I worried that it would be pretty boring, like one of those awful levels in a video game where you have to constantly watch out for some useless person, but it was actually a lot more interesting than that. When he tells her to hide, she actually does! When he tells her to run, she runs. It felt like a much more realistic take on the idea than you tend to see in these kinds of things.

And the story’s pretty solid. In addition to all the players I’ve mentioned, you’ve also got a group of dirty cops in play. Statham used to work with them, but didn’t want to be dirty himself so he tried to do the right thing which only lost him his job. As we discover from the mayor, though, Statham was brought in in the wake of 9-11 to be a kind of under the radar super cop who would take care of NYC’s more nefarious elements. I thought that was a cool little touch, something I didn’t expect. While all this is going on and Statham does his best to take down the various mob factions, he runs into a guy who had, basically, the same super cop job as him. I’ll be honest, I was hoping for a real drop down drag out fight between them, but what wound up happening felt a lot more real.

Like I said above, this movie lets Statham do everything he’s good at while still keeping everything grounded. This isn’t Commando or something where emotions rarely come into play. Take the scene where he comes home to find his wife dead, other filmmakers would have had him immediately get into a fight, but instead he’s devastated by what he just discovered and basically gives them the opportunity to kill him. By bobbing when you expect it to weave, Safe offers a good deal of surprises for action movies fans while still offering plenty in the way of hand to hand combat, shoot outs and chase scenes.

I did a little looking into director Boaz Yakin’s filmography and saw a couple interesting bits. First off, he also directed Remember The Titans, which is a pretty great movie if memory serves. Before that he was a writer though, penning the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie, the Charlie Sheen/Clint Eastwood joint The Rookie and also From Dusk Til Dawn 2, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Prince Of Persia, a pretty ecclectic group to say the least!

Comic Book Movie Review: Tank Girl (1995)

We all knew a girl who was REALLY into Tank Girl, didn’t we?  For a lot of people my age who would have been teenagers when the flick came out, Lori Petty as Tank Girl completely exemplified the kind of outside the norm, Gen X, alternative thought process that appealed to the kids who were more concerned with which new bands were rad instead of which new brands to wear.

It’s kind of interesting because the character of Tank Girl is basically the female version of the slick friend who appears in tons of 80s movies. You know, the guy who tries really hard to get his geeky friend to ask a girl out (think Styles from Teen Wolf). But instead of trying to help a pal out, she’s trying to break out of prison and destroy a mega corporation in a post-apocalyptic future where it hasn’t rained in over a decade.

So, how did this quirky 90s subcultural flick based on a comic book I’ve never read hold up? Pretty great, actually. Like Batman and Robin this is a big, goofy  movie with all kinds of craziness (kangaroo mutants played by Ice-T, tanks all over the place, a villainous Water & Power organization). It’s bright and it’s loud and it’s odd and that’s what makes it great. I can’t see a major studio getting behind a movie like this and am surprised MGM did the same in 1995, to be honest. Heck, there’s a Cole Porter song and dance number in the middle of a brothel in the movie!

I think the cast is great and everyone really jumps into these roles that could have been done with too much tongue in too much cheek, but instead Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, Maclom McDowell and the rest really have fun with it and give it their kinetic all.

Personally, I don’t have a connection to this movie. I think I rented it once from Family Video back in my ongoing rental spree, but didn’t remember much about it. I’ve liked Petty ever since I saw A League Of Their Own and think it’s a ton of fun and a great movie to check out. Also, as I tweeted while watching, Kat Dennings’ character on 2 Broke Girls sounds like she lifted her entire speech pattern after Petty’s. Give it a listen and then compare. Funny stuff.

13.5 Quick Movie Reviews

2009-01-17
5:32:32 am

Hey gang, sorry again about my complete lack of posts lately, things have been crazy. I have been keeping myself busy with movies though, so here are 13 short reviews about some flicks I’ve seen lately, plus one movie I didn’t watch.

SIX STRING SAMURAI (1998)

I really liked this post apocalyptic-like road trip movie with a samurai Buddy Holly. The howler-monkey kid got annoying fast, but the action and snappy dialogue kept things moving along at quite a clip. Much better than I thought it would be.

OUR MAN FLINT (1966)

Flint’s a swinging secret agent int he 60s more worried about having a good time than stopping an international incident (at first at least). Great, campy 60s spy fun, that both pokes fun at but also sets itself up in the same universe as James Bond. A lot of fun, can’t wait to check out the sequel.

THE MAJORETTES (1986)

I don’t actually remember too much about this movie other than it involved some maniac hunting down and killing high school cheerleaders. It’s a way lower budget movie and apparently very little of the money went to snag actors who can, you know, act. Skip this one unless you’re a horror completist or you’re looking to cross another movie off in your copy of Creature Feature (like me).

DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)

I was actually pretty impressed with this remake-in-name-mostly of Romero’s Day of the Dead. I’m not a huge fan of the original or anything, but I wasn’t expecting much out of this flick and was surprised. The story moves along the same speeds as the fast Zack Snyder/28 Days Later-like zombies, but my favorite part is seeing actual people I recognize like Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon and Ving Rhames killing and becoming zombies. When was the last time you saw a non genre actor semi-famous person in a horror movie after they became famous? Hopefully it’s a trend that will continue. I’m actually kind of surprised that they didn’t release this movie in theaters. Oh well, a pretty good zombie movie all said and done, though not a classic.

THE SHADOW (1994)

In my opinion, it’s hard to go wrong when you populate a movie about a pulp hero with actors like Alec Baldwin, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry, Ian McKellen, James Hong and Jonathan Winters and luckily The Shadow held up my opinions. I’m not all that familiar with pulp heroes, especially the Shadow, but I like the idea of him having a network of people all over the city (usually people he has saved) who help him out. There’s all kinds of cool stuff like secret labs and ancient forces of good and evil. Oh and for 30 Rock fans, I highly encourage you to think of these as the early days of Jack Donaghy.

LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

A pretty cool story about a gangster-era hitman (Willis) holing up in a ghost town populated by two rival gangs, gets slowed down with a little too much back and forth back stabbing. I definitely don’t remember all the details about this one, but I’m a Willis fan. Michael Imperioli plays pretty much the same role he always does and Walken stars as Willis’ main competition and they fight which is cool. Can you imagine Walken fighting now? Aside from a dance fight I mean. Oh, also Walter Hill of Warriors fame directed LMS, so it’s gotta be pretty good, right?

FOXY BROWN (1974)

So far my experience with blaxploitation films as been hit or miss, but luckily Foxy is enough of a hit. In the plus column, Pam Grier cuts quite the figure, plus she kicks ass. I also like the idea of a group of inner city dwellers taking the law into their own hands and creating their own kind of police force. I’m not a big fan of the sexual assault stuff, but I guess that’s all part of the exploitation riff. Too bad Foxy and Shaft never got together. That would have been a great flick.

LEATHERHEADS (2008)

I’m not sure if I’ve professed my heterosexual man love for George Clooney on the blog before, but I’m a big fan. I think we’d get along smashingly. I do know that I’ve talked about how much I like the American Office, so you probably know I’m a John Krasinski fan. So, Leatherheads was a good flick in my book. It doesn’t make my top 10 sports movies of all time (well, maybe, I’d have to come up with that list actually), but it’s fun and it offered up a look at a period in professional football that I am completely unfamiliar with, so that was cool. Of course, it’s a comedy, so I’m not sure how accurate it was, but who cares? Like I said it was fun. Has similar story elements to League of the their Own (which probably would make my top 10 because I’m a huge softy). Not groundbreaking by any means, but worth a watch.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008)

I liked Leatherheads more than Journey, but it’s not a terrible movie (even if it is very predictable). The special effects bounce back and forth between boderline okay, pretty good and not so great, but the effort is there. I really wish I would have been able to see this bad boy in 3D. I missed out on the phenomenon in the 80s and have gotten a taste for it by watching Superman Returns (ugh) and Nightmare Before Christmas in lame separate the background from the foreground 3D. I can’t freaking wait to see My Bloody Valentine 3D!!!

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

Holy crap I loved this movie. Rickey got me a subscription to a horror movie mag called Horror Hound that’s not expertly edited, but still offers up tons and tons of horror goodness. One such bit of goodness was a whole feature on Klowns. The movie is just so much freaking over the bigtop fun. I really can’t believe that a studio made this movie. Please, do yourself a favor and check it out. Also of interest on the DVD is the Chiodo brothers’ home movies from when they were making monster movies as kids. Pretty impressive stuff for pre-teens with a 16mm camera.

VAMPIRE EFFECT (2003)

The combination of Hong Kong action and vampires drew me to this flick pretty quickly on Netflix. Heck, it’s even got Jackie Chan in a roll that’s more than him just walking on and being called Jackie (which he is). As with a lot of movies like this that I’ve seen, the special effects and fight scenes are sick, but the story itself is nothing new. I did really like the cool retractable whip/sword weapons they used. I think I designed something very similar what I was younger.

LICENSE TO DRIVE (1988)

If you thought Corey Haim could have been a little bit smoother, though still pretty spazzy in Lost Boys and Corey Fledman from the Burbs could use a little mellowing out, then License to Drive is the perfect 2 Coreys vehicle for you (puns!). Haim fails his driving test, but still tells a young (though still 18 by my math) Heather Graham that he can pick her up. It’s basically like an episode of a sitcom, but stretched to 90 minutes and definitely edgier than your average Saved By The Bell. Good stuff. Next up from the Coreys? Dream a Little Dream (which I have absolutely no knowledge of).

LEGEND (1985)

Legend is one of those movies that I don’t remember at all, but have since come to find that it’s kind of a big deal (to some people). I knew that Tim Curry was in it, but had no idea Tom Cruise was. I thought it might be kind of a funny movie, but when I saw Tom prancing around the forest or whatever I clicked this badboy off and deleted it from my queue. I am no fan of fantasy movies.

JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988)

I’m becoming a pretty big fan of Netflix’s recommendations. I started watching Johnny after digging License and wasn’t disappointed. It’s got an older and more confident Anthony Michael Hall and a completely goofy Robert Downey Jr.. There’s a good deal of goofiness to this movie, which focuses on Hall as a football star getting courted by and visiting different colleges that want him. Downey plays his wacky best friend, but what struck me about the movie is how real it can be at times. Hall and Downey sell their characters like they’re up for an award. Oh, it’s also got Uma Thurman as Hall’s girlfriend and Jennifer Tilly has a quick role. If you’re an 80s movie fan, or just curious to see what Downey might have been like back in the late 80s give Johnny a look.

AUGUST RUSH (2007)

Sometimes you’ve got to add a movie for your lady to the ol’ queue. I was pleasantly surprised with August Rush, not because the story is all the unique (you’ve seen the broad strokes before plenty of times), but because of it’s view of music. The way they show the young boy experiencing music in everyday life, what it means to him and how he’s eventually able to play it in his own unorthodox way really struck me. If you’ve got to watch a chick flick with your girl and you’re a music fan, this is a good choice. Also, Keri Russell is in it and looking good.

KING OF KONG (2007)

If you haven’t seen this documentary about the surprisingly competitive world of classic arcade high score competitions, please stop reading and watch it right now. This one makes it into my top 10 movies of 2007 (should a list ever actually exist). First off, it shows off a world I’ve never seen, which you know I love. Also, that world is full of deceit, greed, cowardice, heroics, villainy, triumph and defeat. The way the story is put together feels like a really well scripted feature film, though the events and the ups and downs are completely real. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written about on here, watch this movie.

SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY (2007)

Seeing as how The Death and Return of Superman is the story that got me collecting comics in the first place (and how deeply and utterly I bought into the idea that any of the four subsequent people could be the real Superman), I was very excited when I heard a few years ago that DC/WB was going to make an animated movie about that very event, I was psyched. I figured it probably wouldn’t have EVERYthing that made the comic so cool (Superman turning back to save a family instead of finishing Doomsday off, that very 90s JLA facing off against Doomsday, an eyes-swollen-shut Guy Gardner asking his teammate to aim his fist at Doomsday so he could blast it, not to mention the four other “Supermen”), but that it could offer up a cool new look on the idea. And it’s definitely a different look. I would have preferred them either go straight with the established look and continuity of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini-verse or have a drastically different art direction on the project as little things like Superman’s cheek lines become distracting. I was also distracted by the different voices for these characters that I recognize from a specific other incarnation that looked very similar but sound completely different. Even at 77 minutes it felt kind of slow, but the fight scenes are pretty great (though they don’t hold a candle to JLU). I still hold on to my dream of one day seeing an epic, animated incarnation of the Death and Return of Superman though. A boy can dream, right?