Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 24, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: The 6th Day (2000)


Even in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s waning years, he wasn’t box office poison. “Eraser” doesn’t get talked about much but it made money. “End of Days” was forgettable but it made money. “Jingle All the Way” and “Batman & Robin” were extended embarrassments but even they made money. What about “The 6th Day?” Wikipedia refers to it as a “box office success.” However, consider this. “The 6th Day” was made for 82 million dollars. It made 116 million. Sure, a 34 million dollar return is nothing to sneeze at.  But it’s hardly a runaway success and less then what the actor’s last four movies made. That “The 6th Day” made any money at all is surprising. It may very well be the nadir of Schwarzenegger’s career, an egregiously awful film that fails in every way.

In the not so distant future, the technology to clone humans exists. However, that particular taboo has been outlawed, though the cloning of animals and organs are okay. Adam Gibson is a family man and a helicopter pilot. When he gets the job to escort cloning mogul Michael Drucker, his life changes. Gibson wakes up in a daze. He heads back home and sees a clone of himself talking to his wife and playing with his daughter. Soon, Gibson is a wanted man, hunted by Drucker’s lackeys. Turns out, Gibson is at the center of a conspiracy involving anti-cloning terrorists, mad science, and shifty corporate crime.

The most immediate question “The 6th Day” leaves me with is not a deep quandary about the purpose of cloning or the existence of the human soul. The burning question is: What the fuck is wrong with Roger Spottiswoode’s direction? “The 6th Day” begins with slow-motion replays of scenes we’ve already seen. Slow-motion is utilized frequently. Slow-motion is tacky in the best of situations. Spottiswoode’s uses it all the damn time. Even unimportant scenes, like a doll flying out a window or Arnold stumbling down some stairs, are in slow-mo. The most annoying thing the director does is the scene transitions. For some god forsaken reason, each time the scene shifts, we cut to an overview shot of a city with digital lines flashing over it. Why? “Terror Train” didn’t look like this. Not even “Tomorrow Never Dies” looked like this. Did Roger Spottiswoode have an aneurism in the editing room? “The 6th Day” looks like total shit and it’s completely inexcusable.

I think “The 6th Day” was attempting to be serious science fiction, exploring the philosophical ramifications of cloning. Instead, it should have gone for the cheese value of having double the Arnold. Van Damme has fought himself, like, four times so its natural Arnie would do it. Disappointingly, “The 6th Day” doesn’t go there. Arnold teams up with himself but that’s not nearly as fun. Even in a shitty movie like this, the Austrian Oak brings his A-game. The one-liners are pretty lame and the action is uninspired but Arnold remains a captivating, physical performer. See the scene where he dangles over a waterfall from a fence. He mugs a little too much but I believe this was a defense mechanism against the lousy screenplay. The weirdest thing about the character Adam Gibson is his character arc. In the opening scene, he’s a family man, flirting with his wife, playing with his kid, and joking with his co-workers. Once the cloning conspiracy is revealed, he’s picking up a laser gun, snapping necks, and running over bad guys. Later on, a short line is dropped about Gibson being a veteran of, ugh, the “Rainforest War.” But the sudden transition from family man to murder machine is startling. And I’m talking about an actor who always plays murder machines.

If people remembering anything about “The 6th Day,” it’s the movie’s hilariously dated version of the future. The very first scene is set at an XFL game. That’s right, the XFL, the bastard off-spring of pro football and pro wrestling that lasted for one season (that’s three months) in 2001. Some of the technology in “The 6th Day” is slightly more plausible then the XFL lasting into the future for any extended amount of time. There are self-driving car, a technology that currently exists. There’s a fridge that tells you when you run out of milk, which you can buy on Amazon. However, the execution is hacky. Since the cars don’t need drivers, the passengers turn to talk to each other in a really awkward fashion. The talking fridge comes off as goofy. An automated 9-1-1 call is plausible but unlikely, and clumsily presented, technology. Then there’s the cloning, which works like fast food. Even in the future, that’s impossible. And what about the weird, helicopter/airplane combos, brought to life by the year 2000’s best CGI? Or the laser guns? Or the prospect of America going to war to defend the rainforest? Yeah, I wouldn’t hold my breath for those.

There’s plenty of unintentional hilarity in “The 6th Day” but don’t think it’s a super somber science fiction film. The movie has comic relief. However, that comic relief is bafflingly awful and usually off-putting. Early on, Gibson’s daughter asks for a SimPal Doll, a robot doll that grows hair and plays like a child. When we meet SimPal Cindy, she’s horrifying. Her face looks like a nightmare combination of Chucky and Lily Cole. That baby from “Twilight” was more convincing. Worst, SimPal Cindy talks, in a weird, mechanical voice. When hurt, she cries. She begs for mercy, to make the hurting stop. I think this is supposed to be funny. It’s deeply, seriously not. Arnold’s best friend in the movie, played by a stoned Michael Rappaport, has a holographic girlfriend. She’s programmed to be as docile, sexual, and subservient as possible, proving that sexism still exist in the future. Also off-putting are the villain’s trio of henchmen, played by Michael Rooker, Terry Crews, and some actress in a blue wig. They have been cloned so often that the bad guy doesn’t care about them. They get their limbs blown and sliced off, limping around on bloody stumps. This would be hilarious in “Dead/Alive” but in a serious sci-fi/action combination, it’s strangely disturbing.

Eventually, “The 6th Day” reaches a balance of staggeringly bad decisions and crappy writing. You get used to the goofy sci-fi technology and the bungled attempts at humor. So the film settles in for a boring last act. There’s a lame attempt at a plot twist. The Arnold we think is the original turns out to the clone. The way to determine a clone is revealed. The bad guy attempts to mind-fuck the hero. This twist becomes even lamer when we discover it’s a trick on Arnold’s behalf. So there’s shoot-out and a last minute ploy by the villain. It’s super tedious. I just watched the movie a half-hour ago and I still don’t really remember the details of it. Safe to say, “The 6th Day” starts out as so-bad-it’s-funny before transforming into so-bad-it’s-dull.

Aside from the creepy doll, the weirdest thing about “The 6th Day” is that it co-stars Robert Duvall. I don’t know how the movie wrangled an Academy Award winner and a former “Godfather” cast member into appearing in it. Duvall’s scenes are very earnest and revolve around his cloned wife dying. Duvall’s role is fairly small and at odds with the movie’s overall tone. He seems very confused about what’s happening. Tony Goldwyn plays the main villain as a snotty, conceited, asshole corporate exec. Goldwyn is a weird choice for the part and never seems comfortable in the film. Experienced character actors like Rapaport and Rooker never let the cracks show but none of them seem entirely sure what to do with the material either.

That “The 6th Day” turned out the way it did required a long series of massive miscalculations on many people’s behalves. It’s not merely a bad movie but a major fiasco. As a science fiction film, it’s seriously laughable. As an action movie, it’s hugely uninspired. As a film about cloning, it doesn’t address the concept in any serious way. As an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, it barely registers. Arnold is arguably the best thing about it but even someone as massively charming as him can’t save this massive creative failure. [2/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 3 outta 5]
[] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[X] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 63: The Jaws Series

It's getting close to summer so Mr. Mash and I decided to (metaphorically) head to the beach and talk about the Jaws series! That original is really a great movie, one of my all-time favorites, and those sequels are... Not so good. But it makes for a brief, fun episode of podcasting!



Schwarzenegger Sweeps will continue tomorrow and another Bangers n' Mash episode will becoming soon. Promise!

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: End of Days (1999)


Sitting here in our lofty year of 2015, it’s easy to be dismissive of turn-of-the-millennia hysteria. By my count, we’ve survived at least three subsequent end of the world dates. At the time though, some people were really freaking out. It wasn’t just the new-agers and the religious crazies. The Y2K bug even had sane people worried. Not helping matters were movies like “End of Days,” seeking to capitalize on millennial anxieties. As a Schwarzenegger movie, “End of Days” is the first movie Arnold made following open heart surgery. It was the beginning of a low, third period in his career, following his eighties golden age and the experimental nineties years. His next few movies weren’t particularly successful, leading Arnold to consider a second career in politics.

In the days leading up to the end of 1999, the end of the millennia, some weird shit begins to happen in New York. Depressed cop Jericho Cane personally witnesses a mute priest, an attempted assassin, speak. A restaurant explodes suddenly. A man is pinned to a ceiling with knives, Latin carved onto his chest. Cane’s investigation leads him to a strange girl, Christine York, who has bizarre visions. Turns out, Christine is the predestined mate of Satan. If Lucifer, inhabitant the body of a man, sleeps with the girl before the strike of midnight on December 31st, she will give birth to the Antichrist and begin the end of days. Now Jericho has to overcome his own crisis of faith, protect Christine from various attackers, and cock block the devil.

By 1999, the type of heroes Schwarzenegger usually played were no longer in vogue. Audiences could no longer buy the hyper-macho, hyper-violent hero who, despite killing lots of people, maintained the moral high ground. So in “End of Days,” the superstar played a part he hadn’t attempted in a long time: The grizzled anti-hero. Jericho Cane is introduced putting a gun to his head. He’s an alcoholic with a bad case of perma-stubble. The cause of his depression is the death of his wife and children, murdered by home invaders. So Arnold is grouchy throughout the entire film. He’s ill-tempered, violent, vulgar, and frequently hungover. The movie also has Arnold attempting something he doesn’t usually do: Emoting. Jericho is a troubled man and even cries at one point. Arnold does better then you’d expected. Mostly though, he just seems tired and angry.

Also, he’s playing Jesus. Okay, not really. However, Jericho Cane is one in a long line of self-sacrificing genre heroes whose initials are pointedly “J.C.” That’s right, “self-sacrificing.” Spoiler alert for a 15 year old movie: Arnold kills himself at the end of the film, choosing to die in order to drive Satan out and save the day. In case you didn’t get the reference, the movie even crucifies Arnold. Cane has nails hammered into his body and is strung up on an iron cross in an alley way. Not helping matters: "Jericho" and "Caine" are obvious religious references too. I have no problem with Arnold ending the movie dead. It’s a natural move for the screenplay. The Christ metaphor stuff seems really thrown in though. Caine spends the whole movie doubting the existence of God. Not exactly the most Christ-like move. Also, I don’t think Jesus ever blew devil worshipers away with a grenade launcher. It’s almost as if the movie just included it because “End of Days” is a quasi-religious story, whether or not it made any sense.

From a story perspective, “End of Days” is an awkward fusion of detective movie, conspiracy thriller, action flick, and religious horror film. The detective and conspiracy elements aren’t successful at all. A brief prologue explains the movie’s mythology, giving the audience a good idea of where this is all going. Despite this, it still takes the characters a half-hour to deduce what is happening. Arnold is many things but an effective sleuth isn’t one of them. An awkward subplot involves an order of priest sent to kill the girl. That would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, wouldn’t it? But, no, Arnold has to fight these guys too, choosing to protect the girl, even if it imperils the world. Sadly, “End of Days” isn’t that good of a horror movie either. The film’s attempts at horrific imagery are fairly flaccid. An old lady sprouts claws at one point. A creepy albino shatters like he’s made of glass. Characters are tossed into the air by invisible forces. Satan has sex with two women at once, their bodies fusing into one. The finale has the devil briefly appearing as a giant, CGI bat-monster. None of this is scary. It’s not even especially amusing from a trashy, gory perspective. The movie even throws in that old chestnut of a cat jumping out from behind a door.

About the only time the horrific, religious themes work at all is when Jericho and the Devil come face-to-face. There’s a lengthy sequence in the middle of the film where Satan appears in Caine’s apartment. He tempts the hero directly. He offers to give him a reality where his wife and child never died. We see the events of their murder. Arnold is in the room but is unable to touch or interact with anyone. It’s a fairly melodramatic scene. However, it’s strangely fascinating to watch. Maybe it’s just because Arnold is yelling profanity at Satan the whole time. It’s easy to imagine a better version of “End of Days” focusing on this struggle. “The Last Temptation of Schwarzenegger,” if you will. The real climax of the film is when Caine regains his faith, praying to God for help just as the devil is about to swoop in. It’s the best bit of acting from Arnold in the movie – Seriously! – and is the only time the film’s religious themes seem sincere.

In the last third, after successfully surviving crucifixion, Jericho takes the fight to the Satanists. Armed with a crap load of big guns, he storms into the cult’s evil, underground lair. This is when “End of Days” really begins to feel like a Schwarzenegger movie. He’s blowing away hooded cultists with a machine gun, working his way through the crowd. He explodes their evil church with the aforementioned grenade launcher. The most delirious moment in the film, and therefore the most entertaining, is Jericho confronting the devil on a subway train. Running with the girl in hand, the two are pursued through a running train. They unhook the train cars, causing Arnold to do a melodramatic dive between the two moving cars. Finally, he blasts Satan with a rocket, sending him flying into the opposite train car, exploding gloriously. The movie continues on for a few more minute but this is the proper conclusion. It’s not “Commando.” It’s not even “Eraser.” But it’s dumb fun in its own right.

The one other major mark in the pros column is Gabriel Bryne. In a part Willem DaFoe surely would have played a few years later, Bryne decimates the scenery, chewing it all up. He villainously preens, growls, and hisses, packing in as much campy, Satanic glee as possible. Apparently, Udo Kier was originally supposed to play the devil. That would have been amazing but maybe mainstream audiences weren’t ready for full Udo. Instead, Kier plays a perverse priest and does well in the part. A wildly overqualified Rod Steiger, in one of his last roles, plays a good priest. Steiger is underserved, mostly delivering flat exposition. CCH Pounder gets to be a little villainous, after her police officer is possessed. Kevin Pollak, as Jericho’s BFF Bobby, is also occasionally amusing. At the very least, he has a good rapport with Arnold.

In conclusion, “End of Days” is a bit of a slog. It’s rather glum, lacking the humor that characterizes most of Schwarzenegger’s career. The screenplay is awfully messy, taking way too long to get to the point. It fails as a horror film and a thriller. By the time we get to the good stuff, Arnold gunning down hordes of foes, it’s a bit too little, too late. It’s mostly worth checking out if you want to see Arnold in a serious mood or an overly hammy Gabriel Bryne. Ultimately, a movie with the log line of “Schwarzenegger vs. Satan!” should have been a lot more entertaining. [5/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 3 outta 5]
[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: Eraser (1996)


When “Eraser” came out in 1996, it was already something of an anomaly. Action cinema had changed irrevocably in the nineties, with the rise of CGI. Hyper-violent, R-rated action tent poles were becoming increasingly rare and would more-or-less disappear in a few years. By the late nineties, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career wasn’t exactly what it used to be. The time when “Total Recall” and “Terminator 2” made him the highest grossing star in the world had passed. Financial disappointments, like “Last Action Hero,” and critical embarrassments, like “Junior,” had taken the gloss off his box office clout. The Austrian superstar would suffer further indignities soon, with “Jingle All the Way” and “Batman & Robin.” Taken in this light, “Eraser” feels like the last of its kind: A bloody shoot-em-up, with ridiculous action, built entirely around Arnold’s star power.

John Kruger is an agent for Witness Protection. He is an Eraser, someone who destroys all the evidence of a target’s life so that they may start a new one. He usually accomplishes this by faking deaths and making real deaths, of those who get in the way. Kruger’s latest mission is to protect Lee, a worker for weapons contractor Cyrez. The company has developed super-deadly, high tech rail guns and someone inside is selling them to terrorists. While Kruger’s mission seems simple enough at first, it quickly becomes apparent that a mole inside Witness Protection is helping sell the guns. Teaming up with Lee, Kruger has to fight against his own agency, clear his name, get the guns back, and kill the bad guys.

“Eraser” is, on paper, not an especially memorable Schwarzenegger vehicle. It distills many elements from Arnold’s previous movies into one. The beginning of the film has him working for a secret agency, getting an assignment from his boss in a manilla file. This reminds me a lot of James Bond, which reminds me a lot of “True Lies.” John Kruger is mostly a very serious person, focused on the mission, reminding me of his character in “Red Heat” and “The Terminator.” Mostly though, “Eraser” reminds me of “Commando.” It’s truly like a nineties version of that eighties classic. In both, Arnold spends the entire plot seeking to rescue a female he has no romantic attraction too. In both, he’s a super soldier who doesn’t take people’s bullshit, is more or less unstoppable, and is fiercely devoted to his mission. Both John Matrix and John Kruger are primarily defined by their abilities to kill bad guys and sling amusing one-liners. All of this is a-okay because Arnold is excellent at doing these things.

Now, “Eraser” is nowhere near as good as “Commando.” However, it does feature some amazingly over-the-top, spectacularly ridiculous action sequences of its own. There’s some good stuff in the first half. Arnold ninjas into a house and crushes a guy’s head in a refrigerator door. There’s a solid shoot-out in a wood cabin, with a mook getting shotgunned out a window. Once Kruger gets on a plane, his boss turning on him, the conspiracy being revealed, “Eraser” goes totally fucking nuts. Arnold tears open a door, tosses a seat into the engine, and clings to the outside of the jet, a digital effect that does not hold up. He somehow avoids the flaming jet engine, gets on a parachute, and shoots the pilot of the plane before it flies into him. But wait, there’s more! Our hero does a free fall drop, getting tangled in his own parachute, before successfully landing on a car in a junkyard. (One of the film’s best moments: Arnold asks a little girl where he is. Her response? “Earth.”) Amazingly, that’s not even the most ridiculous thing that happens in “Eraser.” Afterwards, there’s a gun fight in the New York Zoo, climaxing in some very dicey CGI alligators munching on the bad guys. When a gator tries to munch on Arnold, he blows it away and utters the immortal line, “You’re luggage!” It’s awesome.

Also awesome is the central MacGuffin of “Eraser.” The weapon the villains stole from Cyrez and plan on selling to generic terrorists is a bitchin’ rail gun. It has an x-ray scope that can see through houses and people’s bodies. The bullets are reportedly faster then light but the audience sees a bolt fly through the air, a CGI ripple around it. When people are shot with the rail gun, their bodies fly backwards with incredible force. “Eraser’s” finale has Kruger facing off against the villains on a shady, midnight dock. No one can escape the rail gun’s bullets… Except for Arnold, of course. The moment the entire film has been building up to comes when Arnold explodes through the floorboards and grabs two of the guns himself. Finally, the baddest dude in the world with the baddest guns, blowing away all who oppose him. I won’t lie: When it happened, I actually cheered. This is “Eraser” at its most joyously entertaining.

As is usually the case by now, “Eraser” backs Schwarzenegger up with a very capable supporting cast. Vanessa Williams plays Lee, who is neither the most capable actress nor the best written character. However, she does okay as Arnold’s foil, playing off the Austrian well. (Williams also, hilariously, provides the chokingly earnest end credits love theme, “Where Do We Go From Here.” It wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.) James Caan plays the main villain, going way over the top as a viciously sociopathic bad guy. It’s not Caan’s most subtle piece of acting but it’s the right performance for this movie. Robert Pastorelli is the comic relief, the mob guy Arnold saves at the beginning. Pastorelli is genuinely amusing and the mafia subplot pays off fantastically, via a gay bar and suited goons. Some A-list talent, like James Cromwell and James Coburn, are sprinkled into small roles. Cromwell has literally one scene and Coburn has only a few more. I’m not sure why such recognizable names were slotted into such minor roles but it’s always nice to see these guys.

“Eraser” was directed by Chuck Russell, a reliable popcorn filmmaker who previously gifted the world with “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” and the 1988 version of “The Blob.” This is the right kind of big budget picture for Russell, a director talented at stretching ideas to their most entertaining point. (Russell would later make “The Scorpion King,” which is in roughly the same mode.) The film is a huge, silly, stupid crowd pleaser with the dial cranked up to “maximum ridiculousness.” As the last hurrah of eighties action, and for Arnold as the icon of those types of movies, it more then satisfies. [8/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 4 outta 5]
[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: Red Heat (1988)


In 1987, “Lethal Weapon” came out, re-birthing what is widely known as the buddy cop movie. It was a sign that the action genre was already starting to change, moving away from the unstoppable super soldiers that Schwarzenegger and Stallone popularized only a few years earlier. When faced with this change, I can imagine Arnold saying: If you can’t machine gun them to death, join them! “Red Heat” was written and directed by Walter Hill, the no-nonsense action auteur who arguably first popularized the buddy cop movie with “48 Hrs.” “Red Heat” not only united Hill with Arnie but it also saw the director adding a distinguish gimmick to the buddy cop concept: What if the cops were from different countries?

In Soviet Russia, Moscow police officer Ivan Danko and his partner are on the trail of drug lord Rosta. The ambush goes completely awry. In the chaos, Rosta escapes and Danko’s partner ends up dead. Rosta escapes to Chicago, where he teams up with the local street gangs. Danko follows him and similarly teams up with hot-headed cop Art Ridzik. The American and the Soviet at first form a rough partnership. However, as they work together to nail the bad guys, following leads and getting into a few shoot-outs, an odd friendship forms.

“Red Heat” is essentially a fusion of the buddy cop movie and the culture clash comedy, both of which, not coincidentally, were popular at the time. Much of the humor comes from the Soviet Danko going up against American customs. Schwarzenegger puts his one-liners away, instead playing the straight man here. It’s actually a good decision, as Arnold’s dead-pan, strict delivery generates lots of humor. His reaction to a coin-operated hotel TV, which always plays porn? “Capitalism,” said dryly. When told about Miranda Rights, he brutalizes a witness anyway and says “Soviet way is more economical.” The Miranda Rights are actually something of a running gag throughout the film, a mildly amusing one too. More then once, the movie mines Danko’s ignorance of and indifference to Western traditions for okay laughs. This is mostly thanks to Arnold, whose overpowering Austrian accent pushes through the thinnest wisp of an attempt at a Russian one.

The film is ultimately funnier as a fish-out-of-water comedy then a buddy cop flick. At the beginning, Danko and Ridzik don’t out-right hate each other. Mostly, they challenge each other because of their differing cultural styles. Of course, in time, they learn to love each other. Probably the best moment between the two is a brief chat in a dinner about their childhoods, a quiet piece of character development. Ridzik’s devil-may-care style rubs off on the stiff Danko. Naturally, both bristle under the command of the police chief, this time played by a slumming Peter Boyle. At the end, the two are amicably discussing baseball and bidding one another a fond farewell. Walter Hill described the film as a love story between two men but “Red Heat” is less spectacularly gay then that suggests. Danko and Ridzik are no Murtaugh and Riggs, is what I’m saying. (Though the opening scene, set in a Russian sauna, features Arnold and a bunch of other men in tiny cloth thongs and nothing else. So there’s that.)

Maybe the reason “Red Heat” is not super captivating as a buddy cop flick is because the second half of the central pairing is played by Jim Belushi. That’s right, the lesser Belushi plays a bad ass, foul mouthed cop. “Red Heat” is one of those weird times Belushi, or The Belush to his friends, attempted to be an action star. Belushi’s Ridzik is introduced pondering whether or not a buxom hooker’s breasts are implants or not. He continues in a similarly vulgar direction throughout the film. Belushi swears constantly, chugging coffee, scarfing hamburgers and donuts, and generally being as abrasive as possible. As a foil to Arnold’s straight man, Jim does just okay. As an action hero, the star of “According to Jim” is just awkward.

Despite its handful of jokes, “Red Heat” is mostly an action film. Because this was 1988, the action is frequently intense and bloody. With an absurdly big hand gun, Arnold blows huge bloody holes in bad guys. This particular fate befalls the criminal goon disguise as a female nurse, his gory body flying backwards through a glass door. The opening chase through the streets of Moscow gets things off to an exciting start. A shoot-out in a sleazy apartment between Danko and a handful of black gang members is mildly diverting. The film’s climax is a bus chase, which escalates into a game of chicken. This is, at least, something we haven’t seen before. When one bus ends up on train tracks, that’s a good moment too. None of the action is super memorable but it’s all fairly violent and intense, which counts for something.

The Belush isn’t even the biggest problem with “Red Heat.” For such a simple story, the script is needlessly convoluted, taking a lot of unnecessary twists and turns. A lot of time is spent chasing a key, which doesn’t add much. The whole business of the bad guy teaming up with a black Chicago gang doesn’t amount to much. The scene in the prison that sets this up is especially unnecessary. (It’s also in questionable taste, considering all the good guys are varying shades of white.) The film also takes way longer then it should to get rolling. It’s a solid half-hour before the two cops are working together. It’s at least another ten minutes before the plot proper begins moving. A smoother, more direct script probably wouldn’t have made the movie more memorable but it would have made it an easier watch.

“Red Heat” does have the novelty of featuring a rare, heroic Soviet. That’s sort of cool. Ed O’Ross is also properly scummy as the main villain. A team-up between Arnold and Walter Hill probably should have been awesome but “Red Heat” ends up being fairly forgettable. The changing climate of action cinema is probably better illustrated in Arnold’s other big hit of 1988: “Twins,” the first of several films he would make contrasting his brawny appearance with goofy comedy. That movie made a lot more money then “Red Heat,” which should give you an idea of how the latter is just barely above mediocre. [6/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 3 outta 5]
[] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm




Monday, April 20, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: The Running Man (1987)


In the seventies, there was a brief flash of interest in what I like to call “death sports” movies. The undisputed peaks of the quasi-subgenre were “Rollerball” and “Death Race 2000.” (With the low point probably being, ironically, “Deathsport.”) The genre was well suited to the seventies, a decade interested in cerebral sci-fi, social satire, nihilism, and intense violence. You could even think of the current “Battle Royale / Hunger Games” craze as a modern example of this. Anyway, a little while after the genre’s heyday, Stephen King wrote a pretty decent death sport novel called “The Running Man” and published it under his late pseudonym Richard Bachman. Somehow, this book wound up in the hands of super-producer Rob Cohan, who decided he had to turn it into a movie. The project cycled through many different writers and directors before Arnold Schwarzenegger came on-board. When he entered the picture, King’s bleak, intense book immediately became an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, full of goofy one-liners, comic book violence, and eighties camp.

In the distant future year of 2017, the world’s economy has collapsed and America is now a dystopian civilization ruled by corporations. (This is probably what will happen if Rand Paul gets elected president.) The opiate of the masses is a game show called the Running Man, where convicted prisoners race against trained killers in a bid to win pardons. Ben Richards is a cop working for the system. When he refuses to fire on unarmed, innocent protestors, the government paints him as a killer and sends him to prison. Eventually, Ben and a few friends escape. Their freedom is short-lived, as all three are captured and forced to compete on the Running Man. The system, however, didn’t count on Arnold Schwarzenegger.

”The Running Man” is an in-name-only adaptation of King’s book. The book is a dark thriller, which plays out in an entirely different fashion, and ends with its hero flying a plane into a skyscraper. The movie maintains pretty much none of that darkness. Well, a little bit. At the very beginning, “The Running Man” does an okay job of painting a dystopian future. The set design for the film is appropriately dark. Using technology that seemed cutting edge back in 1987, and seems hilariously dated now, the corporation manipulates the facts, recutting real events to suit their narrative. The early scene of Arnold and his companions in prison, exploding collars around their neck and militant guards shooting at them, gives you an idea of how this story could have played out in a very different manner.

However, that’s not the kind of movie “The Running Man” is. As soon as the Running Man game is introduced, the film totally shifts, becoming a broad, satirical parody of eighties game shows. Viewers watch at home, in the streets, and in the studio audiences. They cheer on their favorite stalkers, taking bets, and winning home editions of the game. The contestants are dressed in garish spandex suits. They ride ridiculous rocket sleds into the game area. There are even oh-so-eighties back-up dancers, choreographed by Paula Abdul no less. Everything is corporate sponsored. The guys in the editing room stress out about making a narrative out of real events. Most prominent is Richard Dawson, doing a wild riff on his own “Family Feud” persona, as someone who smoozes with the audience, is condescending to players, and acts like an asshole behind the scenes. It’s a pretty obvious spoof of the public’s obsession with game shows. It’s also a pretty funny one. It’s very campy but still oddly subversive, like when you have Jesse Ventura dancing in a unitard during a fitness show.

Probably the thing people remember the most about “The Running Man” are the Stalkers, the trained killers that hunt the show’s contestants. Instead of just having non-distinct murderers, the film pushes so far in the other direction. The Stalkers are cartoonish super villains. Each one comes with a ridiculous gimmick. Subzero, played with a brickwall-like physique by Toru Tanaka, is a hockey player from hell, slicing things with a razor-lined hockey stick, tossing his victims into a net, and shooting exploding pucks. Buzzsaw has an almost sexual obsession with his chainsaw and takes great delight in dismembering people with it. Fireball, played by action icon of years past Jim Brown, flies around on a jet pack and carries a flamethrower. The stupidest, and thus my favorite, is Dynamo, an obese opera singer who shoots lightening bolts. Each character is decked in ridiculous outfits. Such as Subzero’s steel thong or Dynamo’s glittering armor. It’s all goofy as hell and, as a fan of eighties cheese, immediately endearing. You’re unlikely to see something as good-naturedly silly and sincerely campy in a modern blockbuster these days.

As entertaining as the Stalkers are, this is Arnold’s show. Ben Richards, a thin, course anti-hero in King’s book, becomes Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger in the movie. He’s a man of principals, refusing to kill innocent victims. But when push comes to shove, he becomes the expected Schwarzeneggerian killing machine. During the prison escape, he’s shooting a machine gun and tossing guys over railings. Once in public, he brutally interrogates Maria Conchita Alonso, threatening to snap her neck or pushing the exercise machine he’s tied her to out a window. Once in the games, he cooks up last minute schemes to take down the Stalkers, often using their own gimmicks against them. He strangles Subzero with barb wire, saws through Buzzsaw crotch-first, and explodes Fireball. During each murder, he shouts the most satisfying, ridiculous one-liners imaginable. This is why Arnold is the King of the One-Liners. Even relatively awkward ones like “Subzero… Plain zero!” becomes poetry in the brawny Austrian’s hands. Simpler jokes like “How ‘bout a light?” or “He had to split” are practically musical. Without Arnold obviously having such a good time, “The Running Man” would probably be a little too self-aware in its silliness. With Arnold, it becomes perfect camp snack food.

Because this is the type of movie it is, “The Running Man” does not end with the freedom fighters crushed by the unbeatable system. Instead, Richards and his love interest escape, team up with the resistance, and kill the fuck out of the bad guys. This is the difference between seventies sci-fi and eighties sci-fi. In the seventies, the individual only has so much power against the cruel forces of the universe. In the eighties, he launches the spokesman of the oppressive government out a cannon and into a soda billboard. Then he makes a lame joke about it. In what may or may not be an ironic joke, the revolution is televised, Arnold toppling the corporation, or at least Richard Dawson, on national TV.

Schwarzenegger criticized director Paul Michael Glaser, otherwise known as friggin’ Starksy, for making the movie look like a TV show. I can’t agree with Arnold on this one. “The Running Man” is atmospherically shot, with deep blues, bright reds, and a generally evocative visual sense. The supporting cast is full of great names. Jesse Ventura, back when he was an unusually self-aware pro-wrestler instead of a full blown conspiracy theorist, is hilarious as Captain Freedom. Freedom takes his job really seriously despite dancing on an infomercial. Yaphett Kotto, as one of the revolutionaries, is also seemingly unaware of how damn goofy the movie is. He maintains his dramatic composure even while dressed in unflattering silver spandex. Dawson is hilarious and Alonso is a capable foil to Schwarzenegger. And you’ve got to love that cheesy, driving eighties synth score, which includes a clinching, earnest love ballad over the end credits.

“The Running Game” probably won’t appeal to fans of serious sci-fi or socially charged satire. It attempts to be these things but they are lost among the goofy action. Which is just as well. “The Running Man” is damn charming as a ridiculous, full-blown camp spectacle. The movie is 50% Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners and is absolutely entertaining in that respect. If you love these things, like I do, you’ll probably love this movie, like I do. If you dislike these things, you’ll probably be rolling your eyes the entire time. And if that’s the case, then ta hell wid you! [8/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 5 outta 5]
[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[X] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm




Sunday, April 19, 2015

SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS: Raw Deal (1986)


Sandwiched between “Commando” and “Predator,” genuine Arnold classics, is “Raw Deal.” Arnold made the movie just to get out of a contract with Italian mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis, which would have had him starring in “Conan the Barbarian” sequels until the end of time. De Laurentiis, in turn, made the movie just to make a quick buck, in order to fund his long gestating adaptation of “Total Recall.” Though Arnold was still a huge star in 1986, the movie didn’t make much of an impact on the box office. For these reasons and more, the film is a frequently overlooked entry in the action star’s filmography.

Mark Kaminsky is a former FBI agent who got the shaft after brutalizing a murderer-molester-mutilator. Placed in Witness Protection, he now holds down a lame job as a small town sheriff, much to the chagrin of his alcoholic baker wife. Meanwhile, an FBI agent’s son is killed during a mob shoot-out. The agent, Harry Shannon, wants revenge. He makes a deal with Kaminsky. He can leave his boring life in exchange for infiltrating the mob of crime boss Luigi Patrovita, bringing it down from the inside. This plan works out fine for a while… Until Kaminsky is found out, forcing him to pick up a bunch of guns and put down a bunch of scumbags.

The first half of “Raw Deal” is devoted to the absolute joys of Arnold being an asshole mob enforcer. Okay, I should say most of it is. The very beginning of “Raw Deal” is devoted to the absolute joys of Arnold being a small town sheriff. There are rogue motorcyclists to catch and cakes to be thrown. Once inside the mob, Arnie spends time trading verbal barbs with Robert Davi and Sam Wanamaker. In order to get the mob’s attention, he wrecks a crooked gambling establishment, flipping tables, cracking one-liners, and tossing people into the ceiling. The rivalry between Davi and Schwarzenegger is especially amusing, the two actors engaging in an extended pissing match. When brought into what appears to be a gay bar, Arnie slams a guy across the dressing room wall, splattering him with red paint. A car chase proves exciting, with cars nearly slamming into walls and zipping around corners.

However, there’s a serious problem with “Raw Deal.” While infiltrating the mob, Kaminsky makes the acquaintance of Monique, a desperate lady gambler. Monique is frequently low on cash and often seems at the mercy of Davi’s character Keller, her sometimes lover. Kaminsky and Monique have an immediate back-and-forth and “Raw Deal” actually makes decent use of Arnold’s charms as a romantic lead. The scene where they return to her home and get drunk, leading to Arnold passing out before they can get any further, is actually quite charming. However, the love triangle between Keller, Mark, and Monique eventually drags the film down into melodrama. The scene where Kaminsky nearly blows his cover so he can talk to the girl is especially eye-rolling.

In time, “Raw Deal” stops fucking around and gets to what all we want to see. Mark’s cover is blown when the gangsters target Harry Shannon, accidentally. In most movies, a mob informant having his true identity revealed would force him to go on the run. In a Schwarzenegger movie, it’s the star’s cue to go on a goddamn rampage. Arnie loads up with guns and ammo. He rides a white sports car into one of the mob’s hideouts, a rock quarry, the Stones’ “Satisfaction” blaring on the radio. Shooting from the window, he guns down numerous goons, their bodies rolling down hills and into rock grinders. The scene has an unexpected end, Arnold smashing the car into a bulldozer. Done there, he heads into the bad guy’s lair, guns blazing, blasting numerous suited mafiosos. My favorite moment here is when a guy attempts to shoot around a corner at Arnie, which causes him to squint his eyes in confusion. After taking out the main baddie, Schwarzenegger pours a bowl of jelly beans on his bodies. There’s no pithy one-liner needed.

“Raw Deal” also benefits from a pretty strong supporting cast. Darren McGavin, wearing a rare mustache, plays Shannon. After a bomb inside a soda machine explodes, McGavin investigates, trading amusing small talk with the local cops. Harry gets shot but it doesn’t slow him down much. At the end of the film, Kaminsky is trying to help Harry recover from his wounds and learn to walk again. Here it is, two of my favorite actors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Darren McGavin, John Matrix and Carl Kolchak, sharing screen time together, yelling at each other. Glorious. The film also packs in prime Robert Davi and Ed Lautner.

“Raw Deal” is not the most memorable of Schwarzenegger vehicles. The plot is relatively generic, the villains aren’t that interesting, and the film doesn’t have any distinguishing gimmicks. However, at the end of the day, who can resist the simple joys of watching Arnie gun down dozens of people? Better yet, when it has him making deadpan comments about cakes or yelling encouragement to Kolchak? “Raw Deal” has its pleasures. As far as mid-tier Schwarzenegger movies go, it works just fine for me. [7/10]

[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 5 outta 5]
[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[X] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm