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Throwing a Hip, Not a Punch

Snitch stars
Bullet to the Head stars
The Last Stand stars
A Good Day to Die Hard stars
Parker stars

Action films: a requiem.

STALLONED: Sylvester Stallone once proved an action-star hero; today his appearance in “Bullet to the Head” mystifies. Courtesy photo

STALLONED: Sylvester Stallone once proved an action-star hero; today his appearance in “Bullet to the Head” mystifies. Courtesy photo

The action film is dead. The once proud genre has been a mainstay of the movies ever since the word “motion” was paired with “picture.” It was the action film that spoke to the common man, teaching important values, like “there’s no problem too big that can’t be solved with a machine gun.” Such logic and reason pale in comparison to impaling someone with a steel pipe. As a U.S. citizen I was raised on the principles of truth, justice and the American way. And “the American way” translated to “steroid-pumping, manly men brutally murdering anyone that stands in their way.”
It saddens me the action film has taken such a beating. They were a huge part of my early movie-going experiences. During the formative years, my cinematic diet consisted of obscenely over-produced science-fiction like “Tron,” “Dune” and “Flash Gordon”—R-rated action films featuring an unkillable one-man army. While we still get the occasional garish sci-fi epic (“John Carter,” anyone?), the action film has been issued a death certificate. 2013 has given us nearly a half-dozen examples of audiences abandoning the genre and proving it’s not exactly putting asses in seats anymore.

Back in January Arnold Schwarzenegger made his return to theaters after a stint as the governor of California. “The Last Stand” was an entertaining little throwaway about a sheriff trying to stop a criminal from crossing the border. It was the kind of low-concept, high-octane, shoot-em-up that made Arnold the biggest box-office star in the world. While the movie wasn’t horrible, the reception was. The movie barely mustered a top-10 finish for the week. Most chalked it up as an aging icon with diminishing box-office value, failing to attract an audience.

Shortly thereafter we saw the release of Sylvester Stallone’s latest action film, the Walter Hill-directed “Bullet to the Head.” An entertaining little yarn about an unfortunately named hit-man, Jimmy Bobo (Stallone), who gets mixed in with some corrupt cops and an investigation into a series of murders. It’s the kind of dirty action film that was all-too common back in the day but now seems downright kitschy. Though not a bad movie by any stretch, the reception was terrible. The movie barely charts.

One would figure Bruce Willis could end the trend and stave off diminishing returns. If any of the aging action icons still constitute a box-office commodity, it’s Willis. Though the fifth “Die Hard” film opened well, it has quickly plummeted from the charts and is tracking for an under-whelming performance from a mainstay of action films. In this case, it’s pretty damn awful.

Perhaps we could blame the fact that our action heroes are in reality senior citizens taking up arms—aging icons who have seen better days. But the action atrophy doesn’t just apply to the old guys; the middle-aged guys aren’t faring too well either. Jason Statham’s latest, “Parker,” tanked hard. Now “the artist formerly known as The Rock,” a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, stars in “Snitch,” another nail-in-the-action-film coffin.

“Snitch” is a heavy-handed movie that tries way too hard to be a message movie. Action films should never try and deliver a message. Unless the message provides “justice administered one punch to the throat at a time.” The Rock plays John Matthews, a construction manager whose estranged son is arrested for dealing drugs. John feels responsible, not having been there for his son. So he does what every concerned parent does: He sets up a shady deal with a U.S. attorney to become an informant to help reduce his son’s sentence. I’m a fan of the crazy plot. We need a few more films that live on the premise of “it’s so crazy, it might work.”

Dwayne Johnson is a likable guy with a great screen presence. He’s exactly the kind of action icon the genre needs. However, his penchant for projects could use some refinement. “Snitch” struggles to achieve mediocrity.

Maybe the action film has taken a beating because the formula hasn’t changed. There’s way too much emphasis on the fact that these guys are getting crazy old and are still trying to pull off the same shtick. I saw a poster for “Bullet to the Head” that read, “Revenge never gets old.” Drawing attention to their age is doing little to help improve their credibility. I’m painfully aware that in real life these guys are more likely to throw a hip than throw a good punch.

I think it’s time for the old-timers to call it a day. And I think it’s time for the new guys to go back to the drawing board. I don’t exactly know what will save the action film, but I know that its bullet-ridden corpse is gasping for breath and in desperate need of life support.

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