What else is there to say about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Except he’s the biggest action star in the entire world. Literally. The man has already had one Legends of the Silver Screen column devoted to him but when I saw this gaggle of Arnold films on TV/the FYE bargain bin; I knew it was time to do another batch of Schwarzenegger reviews.
Our first Schwarzenegger film is…
STAY HUNGRY (1976) ***
The opening credits of Stay Hungry claim to be “Introducing” Arnold Schwarzenegger. But we all know that’s a bunch of bologna because Arnold had already been in Hercules Goes Bananas and The Long Goodbye long before this movie came out. Other than that, I like this movie OK.
The flick is all about Jeff Bridges getting involved with some shady Mobbed-up real estate investors led by Joe Spinell. They’ve been buying up a block of stores with the intention of tearing the whole thing down and putting up a big office building. It’s Bridges’ job to go to the gym where Arnold works out and buy the owners out. Predictably, Jeff grows to like Arnold and falls in love with Sally Field and he decides he doesn’t want to sell the place back to the mobsters. This naturally ruffles his Mob friends’ feathers.
Stay Hungry is an amiable, good-natured, and rambling movie that starts strong but pretty much falls apart at the end. And while there isn’t much of a plot here, I did like the way director Bob (Five Easy Pieces) Rafelson populated the movie with oddball characters. For example, there’s a scene where Arnold plays fiddle in a bluegrass band. Betcha never thought you’d see John Matrix do that, did ya?
The movie is a good showcase for Arnold. He gives a light-hearted, easygoing, and natural performance. It was especially fun seeing him in a role that was almost totally without ego. If he never played Conan, you could almost imagine him making a career out of playing the goofy best friend role; he’s that good in the movie.
Bridges is solid in the lead, but I think you’re going to love the supporting cast even more. We’ve got Sally Field (who does a surprising nude scene), R.G. Armstrong (who later went on to co-star with Arnold in Predator), Roger E. Moseley, Joe Spinell, AND Robert Englund as Arnold’s “grease man”. That’s right folks; this movie has The Terminator, The Dude, The Maniac, AND Freddy Krueger in it. How can you pass that up?
Our next Arnold flick is…
RED SONJA (1985) ** ½
Red Sonja tells the story about what happens when producer Dino DeLaurentiis can’t secure the rights to make Conan 3. So what he does is make Arnold Schwarzenegger ditch the loincloth and change his name to “Kalidor”. Oh yeah, it also has something to do with Red Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen) trying to avenge the death of her sister at the hands of an evil queen (Sandahl Bergman).
A lot of people (including Schwarzenegger himself) seem to take pleasure in dumping on Red Sonja. I don’t think it’s that bad though. It’s not really “good” either, but it’s definitely not boring. Overall, it’s a decent slice of 80’s sword and sorcery cheese.
Red Sonja was directed by Richard Fleischer, who also helmed Conan the Destroyer. If you liked that flick, this one offers more of the same; except not as good. Like that film, Red Sonja contains lots of swordfights, goofy costumes, bad FX (like the giant spider), cool matte paintings (I love the skeleton bridge), cheesy monsters (like the metal dragon), and a couple of decapitated heads.
And I know the movie is called Red Sonja and all, but I don’t think anyone was really watching it for Brigitte Nielsen. Although I think she does a better job than most people give her credit for, she just lacks the chops to carry the flick on her own. And if you don’t believe me, just look at the Schwarzenegger-less sections of the film and try to imagine that stretched out to 90 minutes. Not a pretty picture is it? (I will say the scene where she learns swordplay from a dude that looks like he stepped out of a Kurosawa movie was pretty cool though.)
Arnold basically just stands around and occasionally helps Nielsen out of jams. He does get to do a couple of Steve Reeves type moves like lifting a huge iron gate and holding up a falling pillar with his shoulders; so I kinda dug that. Of course, he doesn’t really have all that much chemistry with Nielsen, but that’s kinda beside the point. Red Sonja almost works in spite (or perhaps BECAUSE) of the two leads’ lack of chemistry.
I mean take the classic sword fighting foreplay scene. Brigitte says, “No man may have me unless he has beaten me in a fair fight”, and Arnold replies, “So the only man that can have you is one who is trying to kill you? That’s logic!” And then they begin dueling. With dialogue like that; you really don’t need chemistry.
Here’s another Arnold picture with the word “Red” in the title…
RED HEAT (1988) ***
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Capt. Ivan Danko, a badass Russian cop. This scumbag drug dealer (Ed O’Ross) kills Danko’s partner in Russia then hightails it to Chicago. Danko then beats cheeks to the USA and teams up with an obnoxious slob of a cop (Jim Belushi) to get revenge.
Red Heat was kinda riding on the coattails of Lethal Weapon and Rocky 4. It’s essentially a Buddy Cop Movie with a glasnost message. As Buddy Cop Movies go, it’s not a sterling example of the genre or anything; but it gets the job done.
The reason the film works as well as it does is because Schwarzenegger and Belushi are great together. If you put anyone else in these roles, the flick would’ve probably sunk like a stone; but their performances really elevate the standard issue material. It also helps when you’ve got a man’s man director like Walter (Last Man Standing) Hill behind the camera calling the shots.
Arnold does some fine work here. I think I had more of a problem with the way his character was written rather than how he played it. Danko is obviously the straight arrow of the duo but he’s maybe a little too straight. I would’ve really liked to see him cut loose a little bit more. Likewise the movie never really breaks out and kicks into fourth gear. It’s a solid flick and all; yet it never quite lives up to its potential. Nevertheless Arnold gets enough memorable scenes (he has a bare-assed fight in the snow, plays chicken with city buses, etc.) to make Red Heat worthwhile.
Belushi is an ideal foil for Arnold. I don’t think Belushi ever really got his due mostly because he was always in the shadow of his brother, but he’s really good job in this. The rapport between them is basically what makes the movie work so well and some of their banter (“You look like Gumby!”) is pretty great.
And Ed O’Ross makes for a solid villain. O’Ross is one of those That Guys that always turns up in everything (from Lethal Weapon to The Hidden) but always does a fine; if thankless job. We’ve also got Brion James, Gina Gershon (looking good in aerobics clothes), and Laurence Fishburne in the mix too.
Overall, Red Heat is a good-not-great Schwarzenegger picture. I’d say it’s about on par with Raw Deal. I guess my main beef with the flick is that Arnold doesn’t get any good one-liners in. Other than that, it makes for some fun; if unspectacular entertainment.
AKA: Danko. AKA: Red Bull.
And our final Arnold flick is…
LAST ACTION HERO (1993) ** ½
After T2 made like a jillion dollars everyone in Hollywood was sorta waiting for Arnold to fall off his perch as the biggest action star in the world. You got a sense they were already sharpening their knives even before Last Action Hero was released. Although it got bad reviews and was a bomb at the box office, I don’t think Last Action Hero is as bad as everyone made it out to be in the summer of ’93. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work, but Arnold does get points for at least trying to poke fun at his image a bit. And I don’t think the fact that it bombed was necessarily linked to the bad reviews. I blame that more on Columbia’s foolish decision to release it the week after Jurassic Park opened. I mean I don’t even think Arnold would begrudge you if you chose to see Jurassic Park over this movie. He’d probably be like, “EYE KN-OOO you OWN-LEE got ten DAH-LAHS to spend, so go SEE Jurassic PAHK and catch my-MOO-VEE on video!”
Last Action Hero is what Hollywood calls a “High Concept” movie, which means you take two movie titles and slap the word “Meets” in the middle. This time it’s Dirty Harry Meets Purple Rose of Cairo. A kid (the kid from My Girl 2 and Lawnmower Man 2) gets a magic movie ticket from the owner of an old movie house (the great Robert Prosky). While watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest flick, Jack Slater IV, the kid winds up on screen in the middle of the movie. When the villain (Charles Dance from Alien 3) steals the movie ticket and goes into the “real” world, Slater and the kid have to stop him from killing the real Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Well, let’s first take a look at what doesn’t work. The big thing that really keeps Last Action Hero from being a blast is the tone. There’s a lot of goofy comedy in the flick that tries to parody action movies; which is fine. But there’s also a lot of dark stuff here that sticks out like a sore thumb (particularly the gratuitous death of Slater’s kid). And even when the flick leaves the “reel” world, there’s a lot of silly action movie stuff that feels inconsistent with the “real” world setting.
The movie is also maddeningly frustrating because it introduces some rather complex subject matter and then promptly drops it. Like when Slater discovers he's a fictional character and the death of his son was nothing more than a whim of a screenwriter. This could’ve been the set-up for a great emotional scene or a chance at some character development or SOMETHING, but then director John McTiernan just goes right along to the next action scene. And the climactic meeting between Slater and the “real” Schwarzenegger is a bit of a disappointment. (He snaps, “You’ve brought me nothing but pain!” and then runs off.)
Maybe McTiernan was the wrong choice to direct. He does a great job on the action side of things, but he kinda drops the ball on the more fantasy elements in the flick. Plus, he isn’t a very accomplished comedy director either.
Despite Last Action Hero’s many flaws, I still maintain that it’s better than Twins or Junior. The first half is fun and some of the action is pretty cool (I dug the bit with the exploding ice cream truck). And there were a couple of jabs at the nature of sequels that were inspired. (For example, in Jack Slater IV, Jack is avenging the death of his favorite second cousin because he’s running out of dead family members to avenge.) And because The Player did the celebrity cameo bit so well the year before, this has a bunch of cameos too. Here’s a short list: Tina Turner, Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, the voice of Danny DeVito, Angie Everhart, Maria Shriver, Little Richard, Jim Belushi, Chevy Chase, Damon Wayans, Jean Claude Van Damme, and even MC HAMMER! Heck, they even got Humphrey Bogart in this flick; which means Last Action Hero did the whole mingling with dead people via computer generated trickery one whole year before Forrest Gump.
If anything, Last Action Hero is worth it just for the scene where the kid imagines Schwarzenegger starring as Hamlet. “To be or not to be… Not to be!” That shit is priceless.
The flick also features AC/DC’s criminally underrated “Big Gun” too; so it can’t be all that bad.
Join us next week when our Legend of the Silver Screen will be Dolph Lundgren.