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!

Computer Movies: Sneakers (1992) & The Net (1995)

How can you not love movies from the 90s about technology? Especially computers. Everything was so new and foreign back then. Most of us didn’t know jack about those ever-shrinking boxes of information and even less about this internet thing. I love these movies so much, I’ve given them their own category and can’t wait to explore even more as time goes on. I’ve got War Games and Hackers high on my Netflix queue right now. In the mean time, I’m getting what I can off of instant watch. And luckily one of those options is one of my all time favorite movies, Sneakers.

I have no idea why I first rented Sneakers back when I was a kid. I was 9 when it came out and don’t quite know when I first saw it, but I loved it and rented it a number of times and watch it any time it’s on TV, but this is the first time I’ve watched the whole thing unedited in a while and it still holds up. Had I not seen this movie when I was younger, I don’t know if I would hold it in such high regard. The acting talent in this thing is top notch as you can see from the cast list on the poster there and the computer aspects of the plot were probably groundbreaking at the time, but in the end it’s a heist movie. I would like to think that the subject matter and cast put this up there with the better heist movies, but I am definitely biased.

The plot revolves around Redford and his business partners who test businesses security by pulling elaborate jobs to expose the weak points of their systems. What adds some depth to the movie is the fact that Redford and Kingsley used to be friends back in college who were on the forefront of the hacking world, stealing money from the rich (and right) and giving it to the poor (and left-ish). From what I’ve seen and read since, that really does fit in with the early computer mentality, so that’s cool. Anyway, some guys approach Redford, threatening to reveal his past crimes in exchange for them stealing a box that has a de-encryption key. They do, but it turns out they’re not from our government. Now they’re on the run and have to break back into Kingsley’s place to get the key back. It’s funny how much easier this stuff is to absorb after (ugh) 18 years of computer knowledge. Heck, I bet my folks could watch this now with no problems, maybe even my grandma who is impressively computer savvy. That’s what I like most about the movie, even if you don’t understand computers, you can follow the movie. I think it’s about time I got this one on DVD because the sound was screwed up on Netflix instant (the sounds were coming before the actions/sounds on screen) and I want to be able to watch it whenever I want.

The Net is not a movie I want to own. It’s not that it’s bad, I did like it and it plays on some of my biggest fears, but I just don’t need to watch it all the time. The plot is as old as stories, but gussied up with a “new” technological coat. Sandra Bullock plays a woman who debugs computer software. She unwittingly gets thrown into events that have nothing to do with her when a fellow de-bugger sends her a virus that leads to some crazy de-encryption software. In this case, a guy who designed anti-virus software put a backdoor program in so he could do whatever he wanted, crash systems and then make more money when people panicked and bought his anti-virus software. The details aren’t all that important, but like I said, it plays on some of my fears. First off, since Bullock’s character is basically a shut in who doesn’t know any of her neighbors or talk to anyone face-to-face (her mom even has Alzheimer’s), the bad guy very easily changes some information about her on the internet and no one knows her well enough to say anything different. It’s kind of a new play on that old storytelling convention where no one believes the person who’s seen the crazy thing even though it really happened. That idea of not being believed when something bad is happening and also being so easily erased freak me out.

There’s also the very popular idea that with a few strokes of the keys, someone’s identity can be erased or replaced with someone else’s. Identity theft hadn’t become a big dealin the meantime, but it doesn’t go quite as far as the movie does because almost everyone knows at least someone who could vouch for them and the whole “but computers can’t be wrong” excuse doesn’t fly anymore, but for a very brief time and for a very specific kind of person (basically me if I wasn’t married) this could have been pretty scary. Like being afraid of exploding Mini Disk players.

I will say that, even though I don’t need to watch The Net again, the script is fairly intricate. There are all kinds of pieces that fit together for this story to work and make you go “Ohhh” later on, like her mom having Alzheimer’s. It just seems like a regular thing at first, but then it turns out to be an integral piece of the puzzle because her mom can’t identify her. So yeah, it’s a pretty good thriller, but also a fun look back at 90s internet technology. The chat room sessions with the creepy robot voices coming out of the computer reminded me of my Prodigy days, but without the text-reading because I’m pretty sure that was impossible back then. Anyway, fun stuff. Also keep an eye out for the big laptops and Dennis Miller in one of his less conceited roles!