(Urf! Urf!) In proto-societies, I understand, it is tradition to leave the old to wander off into the forest to expire when they can no longer hold up their end of the log. Perhaps even give them a little shove when they get to drooling and gumming and carrying on about the prom and their first puppy. I can't imagine pushing Sylvester Stallone or Arnold or Bruce Willis out among the ferns and berries... not while they can still deliver a left that would drop a buffalo or snatch up any old automatic weapon to hand (apparently enjoy infinite magazine capacity if not any particular degree of accuracy) and waste a dozen or so T(wo)third(s) World ginks then inspire that look--we know which look though few enough of us may glimpse it in face-to-face communion nowadays, it being reserved almost exclusively for sinuous-lipped, three-day bearded, vaguely Baltic (Two)third(s) World ginks in rumpled blouses and lugging man purses--in the dilated pupils of nubile fee-males of the tight jeans, high-cheekbones, pouty lips persuasion. Stallone comes off the best of the bunch, the rest of whom if they still do their own stunts and still burst through the picture windows in slo-mo, remain a little leery these days about that shirtless moment. Likewise, if they do allow themselves to have seconded to them one of the above tight-jeans, high-cheekbones, pouty-lips sirens, they have the good taste to let someone younger (more sinuous and three-day-beardeder, rumple-blouseder and man-purseder) do the rubbing and settle for the above dilated, belated regard, unspoken wish they'd known one another twenty years ago (when Tiffany was an embryo and Arnold Number One Box Office in the Nation).
Well, okay. We've got a spate of flicks starring venerable icons of malehood, routinely panned by "critics," whoever they are, bouded by the Academy, and lately even dodged by audiences, testimony, I suppose, that an age of guyness passes tragically if irresistibly into mush: "Wherefore men fight not as they fought in the brave days of old..." as Macauley or one of them had it. The premise remains eternal: a wordless marginal, who harbors dark thoughts and the black-and-white moral conviction of primal oral cultures, gets provoked by some outrage to his person or his entourage/family, stews, steams, percolates, then explodes to exact protracted and disproportionate revenge from the malefactors in a ritual sequence working its way up through the ranks of miscreants to the Head Honcho, to whom a savage comeuppance gets administered gruesomely with a stake or a band saw or a tub of lye or a meal sodden with transfatty acids washed down with 16-ounce sugary beverage (yeeee-uw). Hubris, atê, nemesis, or as the Krau Germans put it: Fahrvergnugen, Schadenfreude, Umlaut. Monomyth. Economyth. Ironomyth. Iconomyth.
A Bullet to The Head (...from a French graphic novel--comic book--Du plomb dans la tête, which translates either as "My Deer Has a Fire at His Pocket" or "Lead in the Head," a pun on idiomatic expression for "Wake Up to Reality." No kidding. ). Directed by: The very capable Walter Hill (48 Hours, the earlier and exceptional Warriors). Starring: Nobody. Sly cedes an oily bit part to Christian Slater (catch him in The Contender, by the bye) but that's it. Rest are ethnic nobodies, notably an Asian-American detective (Taylor Kwon as Sung Kang... or t'other way around perhaps) and an actual African (Robert Nkomo as Adewale Agbaje... or possible oopsy-versa on that one, too) sure proof that we've exhausted the once-thought fathomless wickedness of Rooshans and Koh-reans and East Euros in black leather coats, cast our net wider into the Maelstrom of Evil).
A desultory voice-over by Sly identifies him as a wordless marginal, hitman by profession, bayou-dweller by preference, infrequent denizen of the Nawlins demi-monde. When his partner gets iced after a job (no witnesses on either side) apparently upon the orders of white-collar crime lord Slater through his underling wants-to-be-calife-à-la-place-du-calife Agbaje (or Nkomo if it's not him), Jimmie Bobo (Stallone) teams up reluctantly (source therefore of many Asian-American gibes, japes, glissades, and foofaraws of the not-always funny persuasion) with New Jack City dick Kwon (or Kang if it's him). Needless to say, the bad guys figure out that Jimmie's nubile if tattooed daughter can extort concession from him when Slater spills the beans under enhanced interrogation (and a bullet to the head, hate to ruin it for you, but somebody gets one or wouldn't be the title and, hey, dummy, did you think it would be Sly?), fingers Nkomo/Agbaje). Follows a Walpurgisnacht/score-settling replete with fire ax fight and grudging admiration between the scofflaw and the lawman. Up credits. Patina of noir over this one elevates it a bit from the genre and Stallone looks pretty good for 65. Good palate-cleanser if you've hadda take somebody see Lincoln or Pi.
The Last Stand. Directed by: Jee-woon Kim (or Jee-kim Woon if that's not him), Koh-rean director--why the bad guys are Souf' American and not Koh-rean, hey--who did the not shabby Good, the Bad, and the Weird which see, go-to action sequence guy. Starring: Arnold, looking kinda used these days, sproingy-haired and saggy-featured and still talking English like he just got off the boat from Weltschmertz-in-Tirol; Johnny Knoxville, playing to type a jackass and dunno why except maybe comic relief and not very comic nor much relief, neither; Luis Guzman, very capable but irredeemably ethnic guy whom see in The Limey; Forest Whitaker and what's he's doing in this thing your reviewer has no idea; Peter Stormare, who evidently picked up one of those silly-ass Mark Maguire beards in Lockout which see, now can't get shut of it; some guy named Eduardo Noriega and see if can you guess who(m) he plays.
Mercifully no voiceover by Arnold. A wordless marginal, cop by profession, desert-dweller by preference, used-to-was denizen of the LA demi-monde, has washed up in Lizardspittle, Arizona, smalltown sheriff. When his deputy gets iced (or nearly) on the job, apparently upon the orders of maximum-security escapee Cortez (Noriega, hey) through henchman Burrell (who in a world full of black, high-cap magazine man-killer weapons lugs a Colt's Dragoon that weighs about 4 pounds and takes 48 seconds to haul out of its holster, fires only five rounds: you don't leave one under the hammer of that monster when you lug it around), Sherriff Ray Owens (Arnold) teams up reluctantly with town idiot and weapons aficionado Lewis (Knoxville). Feature of the film is the comet-trail of a stolen New Model Corvette (clocked at 197 miles an hour) eventually to match up across a cornfield (seems like every flick these days has a high-speed cornfield car chase, sheesh) with a 500-horses-powered Camaro (think GM mighta supplied the vehicles for this one). Walpurgisnacht(-tag, actually)/score-settling on the Rainbow Bridge when an imprudent Cortez (130 pounds soaky-wet) decides to tackle the fading but still-immense Ray/Arnold (220 pounds and counting). Grudging admiration between Ray and the now-convinced FBI squirrels whose arrogance has spawned the whole sad episode to begin with. Once again for the cheap seats: Feds are dumb or worse; us citizens know what we're doing.
A Good Day to Die Hard. Last (perhaps) of the Die Hard franchise... Directed by: John Moore (who?). Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney (Who?), a batch of vaguely Slavic goons and high-cheekbones, pouty-lips, tight jeans (made unlicensed in Omsk, maybe, but fit like the varnish on a fourteen-stringed balalaika, a well-formed umph-umph being cross-cultural phenomenon... or perhaps phenomena... urf! urf!).
The gimmick here is well-enough known if not always embroidered with the same um, er... filaments and to the same level of artistry: Die Hard, Die Hard II, Live Free or Die Hard. A wordless marginal, systematically divesting himself of job, wife, family, loner by preference, used-to-was denizen of New Jack City demi-monde, minding his own business (badly) gets put upon by a large-scale truant, bent on some up-scale malfeasance, recruits dumbo bystander (limo driver, cabbie, computer geek... now son) and overturns plot so dastardly and so overarchly construed that nobody else in environs can believe it, so poor McClane (that's how he spells it evidently) has to take on both the goodies (blind in their complacence) and the baddies (vicious in their malefactory) and dismantle the whole of [you supply it: the airport, the borough, the internet, Moscow]. Sooooo... John McClane surfaces in Moscow, Russia, ostensibly to retrieve his son, Jack (Jai Courtney... Australian--like aren't they all--from Spartacus¬ and Jack Reacher, who stands up pretty well alongside Willis' McClane. If there's a problem with the flick, it's not this guy...) , who(m) he believes unjustly on ice. Turns out the kid is justly on ice, undercover operative planted to monitor/rescue a dissident scientist, Komarov, who--nah, really?--turns out to have a comely daughter we can drag along through the fireworks, maybe get wet, poke camera down her blouse. Young McClane breaks out of Lubyanka with his charge, picks up the daughter and his old man, sets off after a secret squirrel disk with the secret squirrel stuff on it, likewise the prize sought by a batch of Rooshan lowlifes vaguely orbiting around Chernobyl, which looks sinister enough in reconstruction here, all concrete panels, dripping ceilings, puddled walkways, glowing whatzies (speaking of which, the daughter manages it that her whatzies glow a little, too... urf! urf!). Walpurgisnacht/score-settling with bigass helicopter (literally "bigass": a Hind...yeah, yeah, I know; it's the other "hind"--one with antlers--but sorta funny even so) and Eniwetok-grade pyrotechnics. Grudging admiration between father and son. Vague hint there could be yet another one...
The appeal of these guys things on how seriously you take yourself. Very? Go watch Pi or Lincoln or Claire's Knee and leave me alone; I'll be over at the bar drinking beer right outten the bottle with the crossword from USAToday and zyeuting Tiffany in the tight jeans on the next stool. Not so much? Then here's a Punch and Judy show, Commedia del arte with stock characters and interchangeable roles and comic violence and human imbecillity and adolescent fantasy and--what's that word?--entertainment that's beguiled the idleness of bewildered human beings since the discovery of Vulgarity. Alan Farrell