Monday Morning Critic – Bullet to the Head, Sylvester Stallone And The Final Death of The ’80s Action Film – Mel Gibson & Maverick on DVD
by Scott "Kubryk" Sawitz on February 4, 2013

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the things I touched on in my review of Bullet to the Head was that it felt like 48 Hours but updated for a modern audience … and nowhere near as funny, competent or interesting as that film. I covered it nearly two years ago on a DVD review for this very column because I freakin’ LOVE that film and it’s part of why I was excited for Head. Not too many films make me stop and watch like 48 Hours when it comes to action comedies; I do enjoy an action comedy but they generally tend to be tough to get into for me because the best ones are character driven.

Head had its trailer cut, et al, like it was a clone of that film. It wasn’t all that surprising considering that Walter Hill directed both films and the one with Eddie Murphy is perhaps his best work. It’s one of Murphy’s high water marks as a comedy actor, as well, and it established the template for the modern buddy action film. Every film has taken this template and did what they want with it.

In high school it’d be the girl that got a little slutty earlier than the rest … Lethal Weapon may be looked to as more of the framework but that film cribbed from 48 Hours so hard that the book-learning of that film was evident. Weapon is the girl that got kind of slutty like the first one but did it in a way where she didn’t get that label. Look at the trailer for 48 Hours, back when trailer making wasn’t exactly an art form.

And then Head, which has a similar vibe but a meathead as the comic relief and Sung Kang playing the straight man in the action thriller with comedic overtones vein.

Not a lot of differences between them in terms of the general direction but the big thing to notice is that the one for the older film looks like a better film even though the trailer isn’t anywhere near as slick or marketable as the Stallone vehicle. It looks better, funnier and everything hits how it’s supposed to in a much more significant way. It’s also an insanely better film, of course, but the point remains that both films are going for a similar vibe and only one really hits it. And it gets to a much bigger point that 48 Hours, for all its warts, shows us about modern film-making.

It’s a product of its times that holds up exceptionally well … but couldn’t be made in today’s modern era because of the way we view the world.

I had a similar conversation about standup comedy with some friends of mine at the bar last week but the world in which we live has changed so much that watching a film like 48 Hours, among others, is a little harder because of how we’ve grown as a society. Head wants to have Stallone bust Kang’s chops on a stereotypical level but it doesn’t have the sort of bite to it that Nolte’s does because he’s holding back. It’s easy jokes, like about the stereotype of Asians driving, when Nolte was dropping some incredibly racist lines towards Murphy. They happen to be funny as well but no studio in their right mind would allow a hero in their film, much less a hero cop, to utter anything near what he casually flings out.

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It’s why we can officially declare that era of film-making, of the ‘80s action film, officially dead.

As much as we want to hold up The Expendables as a film from that era it has a decidedly modern take on the action hero. They may embrace an older ethos, of course, but the key to that film is that it’s about action heroes being action heroes. It’s excessively violent, and awesome, but it’s also a modern take. It’s written with a modern sensibility. It’s old school in that the stars are legit tough guys, not drama geeks in spandex with CGI everywhere, but it’s also decidedly modern.

You’re not going to see Stallone turn into Michael Richards at the Laugh Factory.

We can laugh at that statement but there isn’t a huge difference from Nick Nolte’s insults at Eddie Murphy and Richards’ comments that fateful night. The fact that action films have adapted to the times is a good thing and seeing a film that tried so desperately to be a modern-looking relic was hard. It’s time to let that torch go and put the final shovels on the ‘80s action film. Besides … we’ll always have the cheap shot of all cheap shots.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

Maverick Poster

This Week’s DVD – Maverick

It’s hard to contemplate anything about Mel Gibson these days without thinking of the horrible things he’s said to his baby mama and about various ethnic groups over the years. You just can’t. It’s hard to watch Lethal Gibson, Braveheart, et al, with that same glee that you had before Gibson became the public’s idea of a raging Hollywood douche bag. Watching his films is a test in a way; you can enjoy them but you have to preface it intellectually in a way. Thus this week’s film, an adaptation of the television series of the same name, with Gibson is the titular smooth-talking poker player.

Maverick (Gibson) is on his way to a poker tournament because he wants to prove he’s the best card player in the Old West. Dealing with James Garner and Jodie Foster along the way, as well as an Indian (Graham Greene) who owes him money, he has to get himself to the tournament while also swindling some people along the way. Why? Because he’s Bret Maverick and he just likes doing those kinds of things.

Unfortunately his life is full of shenanigans … cheeky and fun shenanigans, not cruel and tragic ones like Mel Gibson’s life wound up having.

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The film was on basic cable for a while because it was one of those films that was a hit, but not a huge one, and probably was cheap to pick up. It’s quite enjoyable and gave us Mel Gibson being Mel Gibson, the charismatic movie star you just had to like … before we thought of him as this crazy, super-religious anti-Semite.

Maverick is an oddity for a modern audience, I think, because it’s an action comedy based in the West. In the mid 90s Gibson could get anything made because he was one of the biggest stars in the world; nowadays there’s no chance you could make a first rate action comedy with this cast set in the Old West based off a television show few remember. It’d be like trying to make a film based off of Welcome Back, Kotter with Ice Cube and set in modern day L.A as a gritty film ala Dangerous Minds for $100 million.

I mean someone tried to actually do that (Ice Cub in a gritty crime remake of the seminal ‘70s comedy sit-com) but I don’t think they were all that serious. It felt like an elaborate prank Ashton Kutcher was playing on Ice Cube as part of his Punk’d show. Imagine Cube is all jacked up and has his own signature line, like “Welcome Back!” and he’s getting all jacked up on steroids for the role when that little doucher pops up and goes “HA HA YOU’VE BEEN PUNKED!” and whatnot.

But someone said “let’s get Richard Donner and Mel Gibson together with Jodie Foster to do a Maverick movie” and got like $50 million to do it in 1994. It turned out to be a really good film, too, as it’s one of those under the radar films for the person getting into Mel Gibson films nowadays.

Recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Identity Thief – The fat Bridesmaid steals Jason Bateman’s identity. So he goes to catch her … and they wind up on the run from a drug cartel.

Skip It – If this doesn’t look like perhaps the worst film made in human history I don’t know what is. When your first thought when watching a trailer is “They’re not doing fake trailers again, are they?” it isn’t good.

Side Effects – The crappy Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes an anti-depressant and becomes a serial killer or something.

Skip It – Anytime the big bad guy is “Big Pharma” and Jude Law you know you’re not aiming high.

Top Gun (Re-Release, Limited) – Tom Cruise’s movie-star making role and one of the greatest films ever made. EVER.

See It – Seriously … it’s awesome, still, and with one of the most recognizable scores & soundtracks of the ‘80s. “Top Gun Anthem” still rocks … so listen to it below.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .



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