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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: SYLVESTER STALLONE

Out of all of screendom’s action movie stars, my all-time favorite has to be Sylvester Stallone. As much as I love Arnold, Sly is the fucking man. I mean the guy is Rambo AND Rocky. When it comes to iconic action movie heroes, you can’t get much better than that. Many actors would’ve been content to stop there but not Sly. He kept right on trucking. Not only is the man both Rambo and Rocky, he’s also Marion Cobretti. He’s Lincoln Hawk. He’s Ray Tango. He’s John Spartan. He’s Judge Dredd. Sly is all that and more. Out of all the Legends of the Silver Screen I’ve profiled for this column, he is by far the most Legendary. For this installment, I chose to review some lesser known and/or reviled films in Sly’s career. We begin with…

CAPONE (1975) **

The year before Sylvester Stallone won an Oscar for Rocky, he starred in two flicks for producer Roger Corman. One of them was the immortal classic, Death Race 2000. The other one was the definitely not-a-classic, Capone.

Ben (Road House) Gazzara stars as Al Capone. He starts off as a hotheaded street punk but slowly works his way up to be a respected and feared Mob enforcer. Not content to be a number 2 man, Capone then schemes to rub out his boss (Harry Guardino) so he can take over the Chicago Mob.

Directed by Steve (Big Bad Mama) Carver, Capone was obviously riding the coattails of The Godfather. Like that film, Capone features some surprising spurts of gangster violence and a handful of good performances. That’s about where the comparisons end though.

Gazzara gives a volatile performance and is clearly having a blast but the movie itself lacks the fire and sizzle to complement his showmanship. For the most part, the flick is flat and curiously uninvolving. I think a lot of that has to do with the over reliance on giving the time and date for every scene. I’m sure they were trying to make the movie seem more authentic by doing this, but all it does is break up the film’s already fragmented narrative even more.

In addition to Gazzara, we also have fine turns by John Cassevettes, Susan Blakely (who has a couple of revealing nude scenes), Martin Kove, Dick Miller, and Stallone as Capone’s right hand man, Frank Nitti. It’s not a flashy role like Machine Gun Joe in Death Race but he has some good moments. He and Gazzara have an easy chemistry together and it’s sort of a shame that their relationship wasn’t the main focus of the movie.

The flick still remains watchable thanks to Gazzara. I particularly liked him in the final scene of the movie where the crazy-from-syphillis Capone sits by his swimming pool and rambles on about some such nonsense. He also gets some pretty good tough guy dialogue too; my favorite being, “I wouldn’t piss up your ass if you was on fire!”

Corman, ever the penny pincher; reused footage from his own St. Valentine’s Day Massacre for some of the shootouts.

AKA: Al Capone.

Our next Sly flick is…

STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) *

Sylvester Stallone is hands down my favorite action star and as a general rule, I’ll watch anything he’s in. But then there’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. I’ve always avoided this flick because I heard how bad it was. But then I figured, what the Hell; I’ll give it a shot. Besides, most people seem to hate on Staying Alive, Rhinestone, and Judge Dredd and I like those movies a lot, so who knows? Sadly, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is one of the few movies that lives up to its reputation. Its Sly’s worst.

Stallone stars as an LA super cop who is visited by his annoying mother (Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls) who embarrasses him at every turn. She shows off baby pictures of Sly to total strangers, talks about his bedwetting, and tries to play matchmaker for him. Naturally, Getty witnesses a murder and Sly has to protect her from the bad guys.

Looking back, you can sort of see what Sly was thinking. He’s always envied his buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, so teaming up with Twins’ Ivan Reitman probably seemed like a sure thing. The problem was that Reitman only acted as producer and the directing duties were handed over to Roger Spottiswoode. I guess he seemed like a natural choice since he had just done Turner and Hooch, a movie about a cop and his dog. Well, at least in Turner and Hooch, the dog was cute. Estelle Getty on the other hand is just as wrinkled but way more irritating.

This movie is unfunny at every turn. There are long, painful scenes where everyone involved looks completely miserable. Take the stupid dream sequence for example. The big payoff is that we get to see Sylvester Stallone in diapers. Granted, it’s not a pretty sight, but nothing anybody would call “funny”.

Even the semi-promising scenes just don’t work. There’s this one part where Sly goes on the ledge of a building to stop a guy from committing suicide because he had a fight with his mother. As Sly tries to talk him down, Getty grabs a police bullhorn and embarrasses him in front of everyone. Then, the guy realizes his relationship with his mother wasn’t so bad after all, and he decides not to jump. All the ingredients for a funny scene are there but the execution is indifferent and the payoff is completely botched.

And if you think the comedy portions of the film are desperate and tired, the action is even worse.

Sly is on autopilot. I love the man to death, but even he seems to know his goose is cooked. Getty basically plays the same role she did on The Golden Girls, except without the charm or wit. Then again, she isn’t given much to work with. If you think hearing an old woman cursing is automatically funny, you may get a laugh or two out of the movie.

Even the ever-reliable Roger Rees is at a loss as the villain. This guy can usually do villains fairly well (check him out in either If Looks Could Kill or Robin Hood: Men in Tights), but again, the painfully weak material lets him down. I did enjoy seeing a young Ving Rhames as a hood though.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is a shitty sub-sitcom comedy that’s completely devoid of laughs. It almost seems like a fake film-within-a-film from The Simpsons or something because the premise is just so bad, no one in their right mind would’ve made it. And yes, there is a scene where Sly gratuitously says the movie’s title in the middle of a shootout. And no, it doesn’t get a laugh.

Next up is…

GET CARTER (2000) ***

In my Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot review, I mentioned that a lot of people hate Rhinestone and Judge Dredd, but I like them a lot. Well, here’s another one that a lot of people rip on but I happen to enjoy. I’m not saying it’s as good as Rhinestone or anything, but it definitely has it’s merits.

Stallone plays Jack Carter, a Mob enforcer who leaves his post in Las Vegas to avenge the death of his brother. As Carter weeds out a lengthy list of suspects (which include Mickey Rourke, Alan Cumming, and Michael Caine), he also has to dodge stooges from Vegas with orders to take him down. When he learns his niece (Rachael Leigh Cook) was raped, Carter has two scores to settle.

The older, more mature Stallone was a good fit for the material. This is the kind of stuff he should be doing; revenge/vendetta movies. It allows him to play his age realistically and effectively. I mean let’s face it; he can’t go around with his shirt off brandishing an M-60 forever. Sly gives a tremendous performance in this; one that I think gets overlooked quite a bit. The scene where he consoles Cook after he learns she’s been raped is particularly moving.

And he plays off the great cast of supporting players nicely. In addition to the previously mentioned stars, we also have Miranda Richardson, John C. McGinley, Rhona Mitra, and the uncredited voice of Tom Sizemore. The big reason to watch the flick is to see Stallone square off against Mickey Rourke. Their brawl is fucking sweet and perfectly befitting two Legends of the Silver Screen. (And yes, Rourke will be getting his own Legends entry in the coming weeks.)

Get Carter is of course, a remake of the 1971 Michael Caine classic. It’s not up to snuff with that flick but it’s a solid revenge picture in its own right. It’s pretty absorbing when Sly is sniffing out leads and trying to find out who killed his brother. Not so much when he’s dealing with his crime boss’s underlings who want him to return to Vegas.

After a tepid second act, the film picks up steam and starts kicking ass during the final act once Stallone starts putting people in body bags. It’s funny because the pacing resembles the character of Carter in a way. I mean at first he goes out for revenge for his brother out of duty. Likewise the middle section of the film is similarly just going through the motions. But once Carter learns his niece was raped, he gets emotionally involved and the revenge becomes personal, and it’s here where the film really takes off.

Because this is a Stallone movie, he gets saddled with a catchphrase: “You don’t want to know me”. Yeah, I know its kinda lame. Oh well, at least he gets a truly badass line when he busts into Rourke’s party by slugging the doorman and saying, “Nobody likes the list guy!”

And our final Stallone picture is…

SHADE (2004) ** ½

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Shade when I put it on, but one thing is for sure, the opening credits made me sit up and take notice. I think this is the only movie in history that was produced by Merv Griffin and Bo Hopkins. Who can argue with that kind of talent behind the camera?

Gabriel Byrne, Stewart Townsend, and Thandie Newton are a grifting crew that hustle card players out of their dough. They bilk Jamie Foxx out of $80,000, which pisses off his mobster friends. After turning him into a red spot on somebody’s Corinthian leather, they go after Townsend. Stewy has actually taken the cash to buy his way in to a big time poker game with the legendary Dean (Sylvester Stallone). Naturally, the mobsters bust into the game; which ups the ante considerably.

I’m a sucker for a good con men and/or poker movie and Shade delivered the goods for the most part. I enjoyed the early scenes of the film where Byrne and Newton went around grifting people (even though Deadfall used some of the same cons) and the part where she suckered a guy into losing some vital organs was pretty funny. And poker fans will be happy to know that the final table game is fairly well done; although it does come to an abrupt end.

The three leads are all solid and the supporting cast is top notch. Not only did Bo Fuckin’ Hopkins produce this thing, he also co-stars as a dirty cop. We also get Melanie Griffith (looking F-I-N-E) and Hal Holbrook in there too.

But the movie really belongs to Sly. He doesn’t appear until about halfway into the movie but once he shows up, he livens things up considerably. With his graying temples and ice cold demeanor, he puts his age to good use and really commands respect during the final poker game. He also is excellent in his scenes with his former flame Griffith.

Shade is consistently entertaining and thoroughly well-acted. Unfortunately, it stops short of being truly engaging. First time director Damien Neiman does a good job at showing us the world these characters inhabit but never really shows us the exhilaration of the con or the thrill of the sting. When con men movies work, it’s because we get involved with how they’re manipulating their mark and buttering them up to be fleeced. Here, these scenes more or less just feel like plot points rather than a well-oiled scam.

And as a poker movie, it also suffers from comparison to something like Rounders where we were emotionally involved with the characters before they sat down at the final table. It’s not bad though. But if the movie was a poker hand, I wouldn’t go “all in” with it or anything.

And we’re going to end things on an animated note with…

RAMBO: THE FORCE OF FREEDOM (1986) ** ½

I know Sly isn’t in this, but anything vaguely Rambo related is therefore Sly related in my book. Because of that, I’m including this as part of Sly’s Legends entry, just cuz. Besides, it gave me an excuse to review this DVD that’s been sitting on my shelf for months.

I never saw Ruby-Spears’ Rambo animated show when it first ran in the 80’s but watching it now was kind of fun. It’s funny seeing how Rambo was homogenized for the Saturday morning set. Of course, the violence is toned way down and the references to Vietnam are kept to a minimum (there’s only one episode in which he has a Nam flashback). Also, the villains are apolitical as Rambo fights a run-of-the-mill megalomaniac named General Warhawk. And Rambo is no longer a lone wolf. Now he’s got a pair of cronies who help him on his adventures. There’s Kat, a master (make that mistress) of disguise and Turbo, a “mechanical genius” (READ: The token black guy).

The animation isn’t too bad on these things. I’d say it’s better than your average Captain Planet episode. I think the coolest thing about the series is that each episode starts with a fairly accurate recreation of the scene in Rambo 2 where he laces up his boots, sheaths his knife, and ties his signature headband. And as an added bonus, the cartoon even reuses Jerry Goldsmith’s Rambo theme, which is pretty badass.

Here’s a brief recap and review of all 11 episodes on the DVD:

ATTACK ON EL DORADO ** ½

General Warhawk invades El Dorado to steal some gold. Rambo, Kat, and Turbo are sent in to stop him. Meanwhile, Turbo contracts malaria and Rambo has to nurse him back to health.

A lot of this episode is spent on Rambo helping an annoying native kid and teaching him life lessons like “you have to learn to control your fear”. The shit with Turbo getting sick slows it down too but there is a reasonable amount of stuff blowing up to make it worthwhile. (Keeping with the Rambo tradition, a lot of bamboo huts explode.) By far, the nuttiest part comes when Rambo flies in on a hang glider brandishing a bazooka and blowing stuff up. If for that and nothing else, Attack on El Dorado is pretty cool.

BATTLEFIELD BRONX ***

General Warhawk’s minions invade the UN and kidnap the President’s daughter. They then hide out in the ghetto and await further orders. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Rambo and he tries to get her back.

For some reason, Rambo wears a ripped sweatshirt throughout this episode. (Perhaps some parent got pissed that there was an animated show revolving around the adventures of a half-naked man and wrote an angry letter to the network.) Still, there are a lot of close-ups of his sweaty biceps when he’s lifting shit.

This one is a bit dull, but there’s some good stuff here. Kat finally gets to show off her skills by dressing up like an old lady and Rambo gets to fly around on his hang glider again. And the action isn’t bad either. In the end, Rambo rides a motorcycle OVER a train in order to rescue the chick who’s been tied to the tracks. There is also a legitimately funny part at the UN where Rambo whips together a makeshift grappling hook and tells some French dudes, “Bonjour” before jumping out the window.

This episode also has a vaguely S & M theme to it. There’s this one scene where the bad guys tie Rambo up and let rats crawl all over him while they film the whole thing. That’s some Videodrome shit right there for ya, kiddies.

DISASTER IN DELGADO ** ½

Rambo, Kat, and Turbo go to Delgado to help the citizens after an earthquake destroys the city. He also uses a Jet Ski (with an emphasis on the word “jet”) to save a kid from a tidal wave. Then a volcano erupts and Rambo has to rescue more people. Speaking of people in need of rescuing, Turbo gets kidnapped by Warhawk’s cronies and Kat has to save his bacon.

This one is more than a bit routine but it does have a couple of WTF moments (like that Jet Ski rescue) to keep you watching. I think my favorite part was when Rambo used a grenade to blow up a wall so he can get someone to safety. But c’mon, having three major natural disasters right in a row is a bit ludicrous, even for a cartoon show.

GUNS OVER THE SUEZ **

General Warhawk holds the Suez Canal hostage and threatens to blow up all its shipping ports unless he gets 100 million bucks. Rambo, Kat, and Turbo are sent in to disarm the General’s cannon. They also try to help some dopey kid find his pops.

Guns Over the Suez was a mostly bland and forgettable episode in just about every regard. The one part I did like however was when Rambo got trapped in the catacombs and had to find his way out, which was similar to the underground scene in First Blood. After four episodes back-to-back-to-back-to-back, I had a bad feeling this show was beginning to take its toll on me. Luckily, the next episode was a lot of fun.

LAGOON OF DEATH ***

Don’t let the generic sounding title fool you, this one is a blast. In fact, I’m sure just about every cartoon made around this time had an episode called “Lagoon of Death”. What makes it even funnier is the fact that the episode takes place in Venice, which has canals, not lagoons.

General Warhawk is in Venice because he wants to force some monks to use their ceramic-making skills to “radar proof the nose cones” for his missiles. Rambo just so happens to be in Venice too. Predictably, it’s only a matter of time before they’re trying to blow each other up.

This episode is in a word, hilarious. It offers such funny sights as General Warhawk’s goons riding around on a gondola through the canals of Venice firing rocket launchers and Rambo (who’s yet again wearing his ripped sweatshirt) flying around in a gyrocopter. I think what makes it great is that Rambo and Warhawk turn Venice into their own personal battleground and none of the locals ever seems to notice.

By far the best part about this episode is the dialogue. Damn, if they gave an award for screenplay writing for kid’s shows, Rambo should’ve won. There’s a great scene where Rambo is eating a pizza and calls it, “the genuine article!” Then when the bad guys try to kill him in the middle of eating, Rambo yells, “They ruined my pepperoni breakfast!” But the best line of the whole show comes when Rambo muses, “Venetians are the most delicate glassblowers in the world!”; which is something I’m sure Rambo would never say in his entire life; which just makes it even funnier.

Coming off the heels of a rather bland episode, Lagoon of Death was a refreshing change of pace. Stallone fans will definitely dig the arm wrestling scene, which predates Over the Top. Man, I think I like this one better than Rambo 3.

THE LOST CITY OF ACRA **

The running theme of most of these episodes has Rambo coming to the aid of some poor oppressed people. That’s kinda interesting because that was the basic premise of Rambo 3, which at this point was two years away. Unfortunately, these realistic plots don’t make for an entertaining episode.

This one has General Warhawk invading the space of the Acra natives. Colonel Trautman sends in Rambo (who was busy chopping wood) to kick some ass. But first, Rambo has to pick up Turbo (who was busy at an air show) and Kat (who was busy blowing shit up). The local authorities quickly send him away but Rambo knows something’s up so he hangs around and finds Warhawk has been up to no good.

The Lost City of Acra is pretty much standard issue through and through but it does have a couple of moments, so it’s not a total loss. Highlights include Rambo surviving an elephant attack and hitting an incoming grenade with a stick like a baseball. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to recommend here.

Rambo’s big message in this episode is, “If people weren’t greedy, there would be no wars!” I don’t know how true that statement is. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to argue with a guy like Rambo because he could hang glide in and drop a bomb on you or something.

MONSTER ISLAND ***

Like Lagoon of Death, I think every cartoon had an episode called Monster Island. As with that episode, this one happens to be a lot of fun. That’s mostly because it’s so damn ludicrous.

In the Arctic, a giant sea monster has been eating submarines left and right. Trautman calls Rambo in and shows him a picture of the beast and he says, “It looks like something out of a Godzilla movie!” Rambo goes to the island where he is almost immediately attacked by a giant bird. Naturally, he domesticates the beast and the two become fast friends. Eventually Rambo learns that General Warhawk is perfecting an army of hybrid animals and robot warriors.

If you can’t already tell, this episode is fucking nuts. If you always wanted to see Rambo fight a half gorilla/half horse monster, then this is your big chance. Rambo’s Indian buddy gets the best line when he fires a bazooka at a mutant rhino and says, “Get lost you truckload of ugly!”

RAID ON LAS VEGAS **

Rambo has to stop Warhawk from taking over Las Vegas. His sidekick Pandora works as a showgirl who has a pet panther who sicks it on Rambo. Meanwhile Warhawk terrorizes some brats on a field trip and tries to blow up Hoover Dam.

This episode offers the same old shit but at least it has ninjas in it. The potential was there, it’s just that they never fully exploited the Vegas setting. There is one decent part where Kat has a catfight with Pandora while Rambo has a literal catfight with her panther. I did like the fact that all the casinos had funny names like, “The Pink Swan”; which is obviously supposed to be The Flamingo

Rambo gets the best line when he tells one of Warhawk’s minions, “Eat sand, jerk face!”

TEXAS INFERNO **

Rambo has this buddy named Lucky who lives down in Texas. He’s been having some problems on his oilfield, so he calls on Rambo to help him out. Predictably, Lucky’s ranch hands are actually agents of General Warhawk who wants control of the oilfield.

This one is more sedate and reality bound (that is until Rambo fights off some jets in his gyrocopter) than the other episodes, which is a big disappointment. There are some unintended laughs here though. Like when Rambo’s sweatshirt miraculously disappears for the finale. There’s also a great scene where Rambo lifts a fallen oil well off of his wounded buddy too.

Rambo’s big lesson in this one is, “Lucky made his own luck by nothing giving up when everyone told him he didn’t have a chance!”

TROUBLE IN TIBET ***

General Warhawk is in Tibet to extort money from some monks by holding the next Dali Lama hostage. On his way to rescue the boy, Rambo gets captured by Warhawk and is forced to fight in gladiatorial games and outrun Bengal tigers. Naturally, he earns the people’s respect and they let him save the Lama.

There’s a scene in this episode where Rambo meditates in front of a Tibetan monk. I guess was supposed to be set-up for Rambo 3. I know they probably weren’t thinking that far ahead but’s it’s fun to imagine that they might’ve been.

This is an overall solid episode with the gladiator games giving it a different flavor the previous entries lacked. Unfortunately, this is yet another episode where Turbo wusses out and Rambo has to pick up the slack, but at least he gets to ride around on a badass jet-powered snowmobile.

BENEATH THE STREETS ***

General Warhawk and his goons are hiding out in the sewers setting charges underneath the city in order to blow up Rambo’s headquarters. They kidnap one of Rambo’s war buddies, a sewer worker and Rambo has to rescue him. He also has to stop Warhawk from blowing up the White House.

This is the sole episode on the DVD where Rambo actually has a Nam flashback. I thought it was really cool how they acknowledged his past like that. By doing so, the episode feels like an honest to goodness extension of the movies. We even get a cool scene where Rambo picks off Warhawk’s men one by one in the sewer. Even though this one is more realistic, there is some pretty outrageous stuff in it. Like the scene where Rambo rips open some bars like Hercules or when he deflects laser beams using his knife. Overall, it’s a great finish to a (mostly) fun cartoon show.

Rambo’s motto in this one is: “Friends don’t owe nothing!”

Next time on Legends of the Silver Screen, we’ll take a look at a bunch of movies starring Sly’s Expendables co-star, Bruce Willis.

Tags: .legends of the silver screen, action, c, comedy, drama, g, kids, mickey rourke, r, rambo series, remake, roger corman, s, stallone, tv
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