It’s always interesting watching old sci-fi movies and seeing how quickly they imagined we’d balls everything up. George Orwell thought that by 1984 we’d be living under a totalitarian regime, constantly observed. John Carpenter went for 1997 as the year by which New York had become a prison colony. Of course, some of the joy watching them now is knowing they got it wrong.
And unless Donald Trump really cocks things up, The Running Man will join that list of films set in a future time we’ve now lived through. In 1987 they thought we’d really make a hash of things and live in a dystopian hell where the vicious government keeps the populace brainwashed with violence and glamour on telly.
The film is based on a book by Stephen King (writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) and with all due respect to King, is far more entertaining, mainly because it was adapted to be a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger who was at the height of his powers. This takes the bleak and grim novel and revamps it as an ’80s action movie.
Arnie plays, Ben Richards, a police pilot framed for the killing of unarmed civilians, despite the fact he was the one who objected and refused to follow his orders. Locked up on a working prison where they convicts are forced to wear exploding collars that stop them from leaving boundaries. I saw this movie as a kid, and the exploding collars are the thing that stuck with me the most.
He engineers an escape with rebellion members Laughlin and Weiss (Yaphet Kotto and Marvin J. McIntyre, respectively). They want to bring down the government and expose the brainwashing, while Richards wants to get the hell out of town and go into hiding. He plans to get his brother to help him but when he gets to his apartment finds that he has been taken for “reeducation” and that a new tenant is living there, musician Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). Richards uses her to attempt to flee the country, but she blows his cover and he is arrested.
As a result he meets Richard Dawson’s Killian, the smarmy game show host who runs The Running Man, the world’s most popular TV show. Dawson is a fantastic villain, arrogant, scheming and utterly without compassion, all hidden behind a friendly, polished public image. A game show host himself, he captures the faux sincerity and interest, before revealing a stone cold side away from the cameras.
Also, in a brilliant moment he responds to Arnie’s trademark “I’ll be back” line with a simple “Only in a rerun”.
Killian wants Richards for the show in order to boost stagnant ratings. The show involves criminals having to run through a series of challenges, with the promise of a blissful tropical paradise should they succeed. Stopping them are the colourful, flamboyant and vicious Stalkers, who are a combination of ITV’s Gladiators and the OTT wrestling heels of the ’80s.
The Stalkers are good value, each with their own gimmick. There’s Jim Brown wielding a flamethrower as Fireball, an electric shooting opera singer named Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude), Sub Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka) who wields an ice hockey stick fitted with blades and chainsaw wielding Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch).
Each operates in a different section and attack Richards, Weiss and Laughlin. Amber is also thrown in with them as she starts to realize that the government has lied about things and is busted snooping.
Of course, every Stalker fails and Arnie dispatches them in short order. Each time with a quip ready to go- “Here’s your Sub Zero, now plain zero” and, having cut Buzzsaw in half, “he had to split”.
Killian becomes increasingly frustrated, and the crowd after initial horror begin rooting for Richards. Killian wants to send in Captain Freedom, the retired all time champ played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, but he refuses.
The action is fast and well orchestrated, with a simple, ’80s bloodiness reliant on practical effects which sees Arnie hack, smash and incinerate his pursuers. Arnie can do this in his sleep, but his odd, unique charisma carries him through and it’s an interesting look at how audiences can be bloodthirsty and fickle.
Arnie’s physical appearance is necessary here, his strength is why he’s chosen as a contender and against better armed enemies it’s ingenuity and brute force that hand him the wins. As a character, Richards isn’t the most developed and we’re expected to just accept him as a hero because he refuses to kill innocents, is fleetingly sad about his brother and tries to protect others, but at the same time he’s rather cold blooded, and physically violent towards Amber when they initially meet. Of course, we root for him because he’s Arnie, which is a clear example of star power.
The ending, where the truth is revealed to the audience suggests things may be about to change. But it’s an ambiguous ending, and while Richards is free and cleared, it seems unlikely that the whole system will come crashing down.
In taking a decent premise but injecting the drama and visuals of wrestling and game shows, the filmmakers take King’s decent idea and transform it into something far more engaging and believable. This seems more like a show people would get sucked into than the idea from the book, where they merely evade capture in the real world.
By upping the cheesiness around the spectacle, they actually make it feel more real. That people will swallow and enjoy blood and mayhem if it’s packaged the right way.
One of Arnie’s best films and hugely entertaining.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This movie means a lot to me, partly because I’ve watched it repeatedly and also because it’s one of the few movies that has made me cry as an adult.
In my defence, it was just after Valentine’s Day, I was single and I’d been drinking.
Picking up where the first movie left off with crazy Riggs (Mel Gibson) and family man Murtaugh (Danny Glover) as wisecracking partners we’re launched straight into the tone of the movie thanks to the Looney Tunes theme and then a big car crash where Riggs and Murtaugh chase a bunch of blonde crims and uncover a mass of gold coins.
The coins turn out to be South African krugerrands, which are illegal. Riggs and Murtaugh dig into it a bit more, but are warned off by the South African consul Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and his heavy Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor), and reassigned to look after Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a loud and irritating witness. Pesci fills this role wonderfully and with the heroes forms a fast talking, quipping triangle which delivers some of the film’s big laughs.
Pesci’s character is annoying in places, but he should be applauded for softening as the film progresses. He gives Gibson and Glover someone extra to spark off, and fits well with the rapid fire, joke heavy dialogue. Of course, there’s plenty of this already thanks to the easy, natural feeling way that Gibson and Glover have Riggs and Murtaugh banter and bicker throughout, with the duo working together fantastically.
Leo is targeted and the duo protect him, and realize that he’s connected to the South Africans. This is apartheid era South Africa, so they also hassle Murtaugh and are instantly unlikable. I think this reason, along with growing up learning about apartheid is part of the reason I’ve had a problem with South Africa and been unable to cheer their sports teams on, although now as most of their players are post-apartheid kids it’s not quite as strong a dislike.
Riggs and Murtaugh then proceed to investigate and harass the South Africans, and Riggs woos Rudd’s secretary, Rika (Patsy Kensit), in a romantic subplot that is actually rather well done. It’s brief, but Gibson turns on the charm and his goofy, funny approach makes it easy to see why Rika might fall for him. The only problem is that during their flirting scenes Kensit’s South African accent clearly throws Gibson off and his Aussie side starts to come through a bit.
Rika and Riggs get it on, but their happiness is short lived as their attacked and captured by Vorstedt. Vorstedt reveals that they’ve known about Riggs for a while, and that when he previously got too close Vorstedt tried to take him out, causing the car accident that killed Riggs’ missus. This doubles Riggs’ desire for revenge and escaping he teams up with Roger and they both go out for justice on the dastardly racists.
Ackland is very good as the sleazy, menacing diplomat who abuses his power and diplomatic immunity to run his drug business, and the scene where a minor goon walks in to a plastic covered room is a nice touch. Ackland is the power and a hissable villain, but his right hand man Vorstedt is the physical threat and his tough one-on-one fight with Riggs near the end shows them to be evenly matched and has some bone crunching realism. It doesn’t quite match the Riggs vs Joshua smackdown of the original, but it’s pretty good.
That brings us to the ending, which is an action movie masterclass. After Riggs takes out his man he’s dramatically gunned down by Rudd. Rudd then taunts Murtaugh with his diplomatic immunity, teeing Danny Glover up to deliver one of the best action movie post-kill lines ever.
And then comes the part that made me cry. Already upset by the death of Rika, watching Murtaugh race to the fallen Riggs as “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” kicks in was all too much for me, despite knowing there were two more movies to come. This is down to the great directing of Richard Donner, who shoots it wonderfully.
Apparently at one stage Riggs did actually buy the farm, but thankfully, they decided this was too much of a bummer and an injured Riggs lives to fight and quip another day.
The impact of this scene is a sign of the movie’s major strengths, which is the way they build the relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh. They’re still very different and bicker away, but there’s definitely a sense that they know each other a bit better, sparking off each other and joking along.
There’s also more signs that their partnership is helping to soften Riggs’ and that he’s becoming part of the Murtaugh family, and this is one of the series major themes and biggest strengths, the redemption offered by simple human contact and interaction.
Glover is solid, dependable and likable as Murtaugh and gets the movie’s big moment, but Gibson steals the show, and is unbelievably charismatic as Riggs, a motormouth ball of energy who looks genuinely badass and crazy in places. This is one of the best examples of why Gibson was such a massive star, and he has the easy on screen charm that few stars possess, and continues to make Riggs a man crush of mine.
The next two installments might not match the first two, but they’re still entertaining movies and Gibson and Glover’s chemistry continues throughout, making Riggs and Murtaugh one of the best buddy duos around. And this stands out as one of those sequels which builds on and strengthens the first movie, getting you even more involved in the characters and their adventures.
The connection with Riggs’ wife is a bit heavy handed, and you can’t help thinking that with all their cop buddies dead along with Rika, and a threat to his partner’s family, Riggs has more than enough reason to go after the bad guys, but it still works and gives him the closure to move on in parts 3 and 4.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Common Hollywood theory states that sequels are an exercise in diminishing returns, possibly due to the plethora of witless and by-the-numbers follow ups in the horror and action movie genres during the 70s and 80s (for the best example of this rewatch Jaws and then suffer through the sequels, or the Halloween series, the last one I watched featured Busta Rhymes for crying out loud, and he wasn’t even the worst part of it). But sometimes this theory is rubbish and the superhero genre in particular has thrown up several sequels which match, or even surpass, the original.
Back in the day Sylvester Stallone was the face of the “bad sequels” idea, with his two most popular characters, Rocky and Rambo, having some shaky follow ups (Rambo III is pretty dire, even if it is in a fun way, and Rocky’s II and V are weak). But in the 21st century he’s become the king of the sequels, Rocky and Rambo both returned and in some style, Rocky Balboa may be the best in the series after the original and Rambo is far superior to III.
The Expendables series would seem to be primed for disappointing sequels, of stars taking the cheques and laziness seeping in, but somehow, they’ve actually got better too. The first one was quite good fun with Stallone leading a gang of action heroes into battle for some standard action heroics, and the sequel was lots of fun too, thanks in part to a better villain in Jean Claude Van Damme and giving Schwarzenegger and Willis more to do than just chat in a church.
In a way the third might be the best of the series so far, even if the action has been toned down to 12A levels. A large part of this is down to some new faces to the franchise, some familiar and some less so.
The movie kicks off with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his squad (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) staging a daring rescue on an armoured prison train to rescue a mysterious figure. The man they rescue turns out to be Doc (Wesley Snipes), an old friend of Ross’ and an original member of the Expendables. Doc is a slightly unhinged dude who joins the squad on their next mission to take down an arms dealer.
The mission hits a snag however when the dealer is revealed to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former friend of Ross’ and Expendables teammate.
During the ensuing firefight Stonebanks deliberately targets one of the team to hurt Barney, leaving them critically injured. Barney’s new CIA handler, Drummer (Harrison Ford) is unhappy with the failed mission and reflecting on his injured friend and having to face Stonebanks again, Barney fires his team.
This does not go down well, especially with right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham). The four uninjured members struggle to come to terms with being out while Barney recruits Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to build a new, younger team (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey). Another prospective member is rejected when Bonaparte realizes it’s actually an older mercenary, Galgo (Antonio Banderas), who’s former team cut him loose and is eager to return to fighting, the one thing he can do.
The team are skilled in modern tech and fighting and Ross leads them after Stonebanks, however, the mission fails and the new recruits are captured. Stonebanks calls out Barney to come and get them, and he returns to the US to tool up, reluctantly agreeing to take on the talkative, enthusiastic Galgo. His former teammates arrive and volunteer to stand with him, and the six man crew head back to Stonebanks’ Eastern European base.
Meanwhile, Barney’s former rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to go back them up, assisted by Yin (Jet Li), a former Expendable, and Drummer volunteers to come with them.
Can they save the younger crew or are they walking into a trap? Can Barney defeat a man who knows him so well?
I bet you can figure out the answer to those questions. But while this film may be predictable it still works as a hugely entertaining action film, and is probably the most fun of the three, and this is down to some of the new characters, particularly Antonio Banderas’ crazy Spanish soldier, who talks a mile a minute and manages to make the character entertainingly flamboyant but human underneath. His backstory is one you see coming, but there’s something wonderfully sweet about the way he acts around the others and he’s a breath of fresh air among the scowling action heroes.
Another good addition to the mix is Snipes, who is a charismatic on screen presence and has wonderful chemistry with Stallone and Statham. Statham and Snipes’ characters are rivals but there’s a bantering side to it all that I felt really worked.
It also helps that in Gibson the series has it’s best villain yet. Gibson’s trademark barely contained lunacy works masterfully here, he’s a more cynical, jaded and extreme version of Stallone’s character, less morally conflicted and with a nasty streak. He switches between demented swagger and icy, ruthless evil to great effect and he appears to have beefed up a bit meaning that the inevitable showdown with Stallone seems like an even match.
The young guns are good even if a tad underdeveloped, although it is nice to see a female join the ranks and MMA fighter Rousey does rather well, holding her own in the middle of all the testosterone and taking part in a fantastic fight scene. The only problem is it feels as though Lutz’s character was meant to build a relationship with Barney, but its never realized properly.
Ford is the weakest of the new additions, never really getting in the mix and Willis is written out in harsh style (“He’s no longer a problem”). Not given much to do Ford looks out of place and even among the older heroes seems past it, it doesn’t bode well for the new Star Wars flicks (assuming he survives past VII).
But it’s not all about the new faces, the major draw is still Stallone. I’ve always found him to be a likable on screen presence and here he’s near his action hero best, and the older he gets the more badass he looks. Stallone also manages to show some acting chops, with one scene after Stonebanks takes out his man standing out for me. It’s subtle, while flying the plane the camera closes in on his eyes there’s a shift from sadness to cold, steely resolve in his face.
Stallone plays Ross just right, we see the effect his chosen career weighs on him, his heroism and his fears, pushing his team away to save them and prepared to die in order to rescue the kids he’s got mixed up in a private vendetta with Stonebanks.
The other standout among the returning members is Statham, probably the cast member who’s career is strongest at the moment. He and Stallone share easy chemistry and their bantering, bickering interplay is one of the series’ strongest assets. Statham has less to do here, but its a typically solid, charismatic performance.
Crews, Couture and Lundgren continue to be underused, which is a shame, but in a cast this big inevitable, but all three do their jobs. Jet Li by this stage is just cameoing, and when he does show up barely does any kung fu fighting.
Arnie gets more screen time in this addition and seems to relish it, he and Sly work well together as friends/rivals and with his stubble and cigar chomping Arnie looks quite badass as he blasts his way through the final battle.
Basically everyone does what they do, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It’s great fun, especially for action fans and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The action might be rather bloodless, but it doesn’t stop the movie from being an immensely entertaining action flick, and with fresh blood added I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Expendables, especially as there’s mention of the team containing up to twenty guys at one point (who’ll turn up in part four? Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Ice T, Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Chow Yun Fat? Just please, no Busta Rhymes)
Verdict: A solid and entertaining action movie which benefits from some new blood (particularly Gibson, Banderas and Snipes) but some of the cast get lost in the swelling ranks. Sly and Arnie fans will love it and there’s enough banter and gags to keep it ticking over. Best so far? Maybe. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
There are three different Hercules movies released this year, but this is probably the biggest, why? Because it stars Dwayne Johnson while the others star the WWE’s John Morrison and some bloke who was in the Twilight movies and will be in Expendables 3. So it’s already ahead in the leading man stakes, and also boasts a decent supporting cast.
It’s also nice because it plays with the story, we’re introduced to the familiar legend of Hercules, son of Zeus and his twelve labours, all being told by his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who has been captured by pirates that Hercules has been hired to get rid of. When Hercules arrives however instead of the one man army the stories imply he’s actually assisted by a gang of mercenaries.
This sets up an element of doubt, is Hercules a demigod, or just a strong and able warrior. Hercules and his gang are hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who’s waging war in Thrace against an army rumoured to include demons and centaurs. Hercules agrees to aid them and assists in training up the farmers of Thrace as soldiers.
At the same time Hercules is haunted by his past, the death of his family for which he was blamed and subsequent exile from Athens. His former king, Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) has expelled him, leading Hercules and his friends to act as mercenaries.
Hercules leads Cotys’ half trained men into combat reluctantly, and they triumph despite heavy casualties, and pursue the rebel Rheseus (Tobias Santlemann), defeating him and taking him prisoner. However, after their victory Hercules begins to question whether the cause he has fought for was just and whether he’s received the full truth from Cotys, who has now become king of Thrace.
I really dug this movie and found it to be a lot of fun. Dwayne Johnson has easy charisma on screen and the muscular build to ensure that it’s plausible that the people he meets would assume he was half-god. In the combat scenes he makes an impressive figure and at times he flashes his roguish grin and settles into action hero mode, but it’s nice to see him handle the character’s more troubled aspects. Haunted by muddled, hazy images of his family’s deaths and the image of Cerberus, the one labour he failed to complete, it’s handled well through flashbacks and Johnson does a good job of playing the damaged, shaken hero.
At times it’s predictable, you know that he’s been betrayed in the past and it’s fairly obvious early on by who and why. Similarly there are a couple of moments when you figure out what’s going to happen minutes before it does, but you could say that for any number of action movies, and it doesn’t stop them being enjoyable.
The fight sequences are well done, and director Brett Ratner (The Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist) manages to make them engaging while and fast paced, but well edited enough that you always know what’s going on. He also has a knack for comedy and there are some delightfully overdone takedowns and quips.
One of the film’s strongest assets is the supporting cast, particularly Hercules’ posse, which includes Rufus Sewell as Autolycus, his old friend, a cynical, sarcastic knife thrower who gets some of the best lines. Also impressive is Ian McShane as another of his crew who believes he can see the future and has foretold his own death, as with Hercules’ godliness this is left vague and unconfirmed.
John Hurt, Peter Mullan and Joseph Fiennes all do the Brit baddies with aplomb too.
All in all it’s an entertaining romp which raises a few laughs, boasts a solid performance from Johnson, a good supporting cast and succeeds in subverting the legend while also including moments which muddy the water. Some of Hercules’ actions border on the incredible and so it’s never entirely proven that he is not the son of Zeus, which I found to be a nice touch.
Verdict: An entertaining adventure with some nice touches and an on-form cast, spearheaded by Johnson, who as well as looking the part manages to get the tone right. Great fun. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
People can be a little snooty about the 80s/90s high concept style of movies, where films were seemingly greenlit on the basis of a quick pitch, but sometimes it pays dividends. Like this movie, which is essentially “invisible alien killing machine hunts special forces commandos”.
What John McTiernan produces from this simple premise is one of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and a hugely entertaining sci-fi action movie that still stands up to this day.
In a prologue we see a space ship crash to Earth and then the movie follows Arnie’s character Dutch who leads his elite squad on a mission in Central America to rescue a missing official. There they meet Dutch’s old buddy Dillon (Carl Weathers) who works for the CIA, who joins the team, cue the most gratuitous, homoerotic “gun show” moment in cinematic history.
Soon Arnie’s boys find a downed chopper and the remains of a special forces team, who have been skinned. Meanwhile, something watches them from the trees.
They hit a guerrilla camp which they eliminate in a blizzard of bullets and action hero one-liners (“I ain’t got time to bleed”), they snatch the sole survivor, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) as a prisoner and Dutch twigs that Dillon has screwed him over (“So you cooked up a story and dropped the six of us in the meat grinder. What happened to you Dillon? You used to be somebody I could trust“)
The cloaked figure (as in Star Trek cloak, not Lord of the Rings cloak) stalks them through the jungle and takes out the group’s wisecracking geek Hawkins (Shane Black), sparing Anna. It’s not long before mini-gun toting Blain (former wrestler Jesse “the Body” Ventura), Blain’s best friend Mac (Bill Duke) glimpses the shimmering figure and opens fire, the crew pouring firepower into the trees, but only seeming to land a glancing hit, leading to the classic Arnie quote “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Anna tells a charming campfire story about a local legend of “the demon that makes trophies of men” and we see an alien figure cleaning the skulls of his victims. Even Arnie’s highly trained squad are freaked out, with badass Billy (Sonny Landham) getting a serious case of the willies.
Pancho: Bullshit! You ain’t afraid of no man.
Billy: There’s something out there waiting for us…and it ain’t no man. We’re all gonna die.
Mac and Dillon go off to take it down. Mac having got a little cracked following the death of his buddy. I gotta hand it to Bill Duke in this section of the movie, he’s not known for his acting chops but he nails Mac’s breakdown, and his ragged singing of “Long Tall Sally” is seriously creepy.
Needless to say it doesn’t go well.
Dutch rallies his boys and along with Anna they book it for their extraction, their extraterrestrial hunter hot on their heels. Billy decides to go one-on-one with the beastie, ditching his guns and drawing his machete.
Billy goes down off screen moments later, his death shown by a scream in the distance. I kinda get why this is done, because they’re saving the mano-a-predator face off until the end, and showing this fight would ruin that later showdown, but I still think it sucks. Of all of Dutch’s crew, Billy was the most badass and they build him up only for him to get this really crap death.
Poncho buys the farm shortly after and Anna goes for his piece, but by this point Dutch has twigged that the Predator only hunts those with weapons, because this is sporting.
This is another thing that always bugged me, is it really that sporting, I mean, sure Arnie’s boys have guns, but you’re about 8 foot tall, can go invisible, have a laser sighted cannon on your shoulder which is miles ahead of anything they’ve got. It’s like me giving a bunch of schoolkids muskets and hunting them with a sniper rifle. While being invisible.
Dutch tells Anna to “Get to da choppa!” and legs it. He winds up in the water, the Predator in hot pursuit. During all this he gets covered in mud that masks him from the Predator’s heat seeker, and the water also disrupts the cloaking device.
Dutch hunkers down and builds traps and creates weapons before Tarzan yelling into the night.
The Predator comes for him and they fight to the death. The Predator kicks his as pretty badly but Dutch’s brains win out and he wins the day. At which point the sporting Predator activates it’s nuclear bomb self destruct (sore loser) and Dutch legs it.
There are several reasons why this movie has dated better than a lot of 80s sci-fi fare but I think that comes down to two major factors- excellence of execution and campness.
Some of the movie is extremely well done, I mean, even though the shimmering Predator cloak effect looks a little creaky it still sort of works. In fact, the worse it looks the more realistic in a way. Yeah, I get that using the word “realistic” about a film which follows an alien hunter is kinda dopey, but the whole idea is that the Predator doesn’t really vanish but camouflages itself, and even the best camouflage fails under scrutiny.
The effect works and the creature design is phenomenal, at the time there’d been nothing like it and its still an iconic genre figure. Due to the time a lot of the effects have more weight than some later CGI stuff.
The campness factor comes due to the fact it’s an overblown Arnie vehicle and the gloriously cheesy dialogue throughout. Arnie busts out several quotable one liners (“Stick around!”, “You’re one ugly motherfucker!”, “If it bleeds, we can kill it”, “Get to da choppa!”) and his squad is oddest special forces teams since the A-Team.
There’s gruff Billy and the seriously creepy Mac, but there’s also the tobacco chewing Blain, played with OTT swagger by Jesse Ventura who proclaims himself to be a “goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus”.
The whole film toes the line between the properly gripping and the ridiculous and just about manages to keep on the right side, and in a way the daft parts are what endears it to the audience, or to this 80s action movie lover anyway.
The sign of how good it is that it’s never been matched and is still, along with Aliens the benchmark for sci-fi action movies.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
That’s how long Arnold Schwarzenegger went between films where he played the lead. After 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, he left our screens and became the Governator. Sure, there were cameos along the way to keep us Arnie fans going (Welcome to the Jungle aka The Rundown, Around the World in 80 Days, the Expendables films) so now he’s back, just like he always said he would be.
But would his return be a welcome one?
Here Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small town in Arizona, Sommerton Junction , near the Mexican border. With most of the staff away supporting the high school football team, Ray plans a nice relaxing day off.
Ray’s team includes Mike (Luiz Guzman) his right hand man who’s lazy and bored by the slow pace in town, Jerry (Zach Gilford) a young guy who craves excitement and Sarah (Jaimie Alexander), the most on-the-ball of his crew. Sarah however, does have a problem in that her ex, former marine Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) is in the local jail and who’s life after leaving the military is sliding out of control.
Of course, that isn’t going to happen and heading his way after a daring prison break is Cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) who’s escaped justice in a souped up super car which is capable of ridiculous speeds. FBI agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker), is in pursuit and knows he must stop Cortez before he crosses the border and disappears, a situation made worse by the fact Cortez has snatched a female agent, Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) as a hostage.
The Feds alert the border towns, but discount Sommerton as the only way to cross is a massive gorge.
Ray becomes suspicious of Burrell (Peter Stormare), a shifty stranger in town and on his day off two of his deputies head off to a local farm after the milk doesn’t show up. They discover the farmer dead and that Burrell and his crew have been constructing a bridge over the canyon. During a shoot out, one of the crew is killed.
Ray decides to try and stop Cortez and Burrell’s men, but is told by Bannister that support won’t arrive in time. Ray deputizes Frank and Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), the village idiot who runs a gun museum, and they tool up to try and block the path.
Can they beat Burrell’s men in a shoot out and stop Cortez crossing the border?
As the synopsis tells you, we’re in standard genre country on this one. There’s a strong Western vibe to proceedings with the sheriff having to defend his town from the black hats. Arnie is well inside his comfort zone as the lawman facing unfair odds, and despite looking a bit more weathered than in his last outing, he’s still got the physical presence to pull it off and knows what he’s doing.
It’s hard to review an Arnold Schwarzenegger performance, because aside from the Terminator, every role is pretty much the same. The jobs and names change, but it’s the usual mix of physical power and cheesy one liners, and he delivers both here, even if it does feel a little watered down than previous efforts. The shootouts and fights are CGI-enhanced and the one liners aren’t as memorable or as funny as in other Arnie flicks (this is no Commando or Predator).
Arnie can do this in his sleep, and as a big fan of the Austrian Oak, it worked for me.
As with all the 80s action heroes’ recent work there are a couple of references to his advancing years, but it’s only hinted at a couple of times and for much of the film Arnie smashes through windows and trading punches in the same way he always did.
The film is quite good fun, it’s simplicity part of it’s appeal. The good guys are good and likable, the bad guys are evil, hissable cartoon figures. Subtlety is not the order of the day.
Noriega makes a good villain, hamming it up to great effect and ensuring that his cartel boss is thoroughly unlikable and scummy. He’s got the cocky swagger of a man who believes he is above the law, and exudes this cold, ruthless aura and suggests that he can be a ruthless enemy. It’s this cold blooded, vicious aura that means that while physically he’s no match for Arnie when they throw down, this edge, coupled with his quickness means that he’s a realistic threat when the two finally throw down.
Stormare does his sleazy, slightly crazy schtick again and is rather entertaining. Forest Whitaker is underused and mainly serves as exposition- giving the audience the info on how bad Cortez is and filling in Ray’s background as a tough LAPD officer.
The rest of the cast are alright with what they’re given, with Guzman and Knoxville on fine form as comic relief. I know Knoxville isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like his turn as the town’s resident nut, and his goofy character amused me.
It’s all painted in broad strokes, and the action sequences have a cartoonish quality to them, bodies fly backwards, blood spurts up in the air and seemingly mortal wounds to our heroes are walked off with a slight wince followed by a half hearted gag.
Arnie’s done better, but then again he’s done a lot worse, and while it won’t change your life it’s a decent enough action movie and the kind of movie I’ll probably end up watching with my feet up when it’s repeated frequently on ITV4.
Verdict: It’s far from Arnie’s best work, and there are few surprises along the way, but it’s still a fairly fun, dumb action movie and nice to see Schwarzenegger back on the screen. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.