As one of the few critics in the nation who appreciates action genre films, I am immersed in ecstasy the first quarter of 2013. Action films are generally held until the summer months, a tradition that began long ago when drive-ins were still a main stay for Saturday nights. Hollywood always connected action fare with warm weather. This year is different. This year a bevy of action films graced screens before Oscar night, and the movies feature well established names.
“The Last Stand” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Parker” with Jason Statham, “Gangster Squad” with Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, “A Good Day to Die Hard” with Bruce Willis, “Snitch” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Bullet to the Head” with Sly Stallone all provide soothing elixir for those craving hard-core action on the Silver Screen.
Critics did not respond well to these films; frankly, they seldom do. Generally, action films envelope themes foreign to the freilocks who generally earn critic positions with 3L publications and networks, dominated by the two-lettered cities. Unlike these posers, I enjoyed all of these films and for the first time in quite a long while, did not mind trudging through the hurdles of Mother Nature to head to the theatre.
“Gangster Squad” may be the outcast in this group. Originally set for a September, 2012 release, the film was pulled when a key scene bore too much resemblance to the theatre mass shooting in Aurora, CO. Cast and crew were reassembled, the scene reworked and reshot, prompting the early January debut.
The rest of the films, perhaps with no coincidence, feature stars from Stallone’s ridiculously popular series “The Expendables”. As I stated in an earlier report, I believe the draw of these movies are because they show the current corps of action stars for the phonies they truly are; relying on extreme close-ups, cut in short snippets to disguise their inability to actually fight.
The real gem in this group is “Bullet to the Head”. Ironically, it is the one receiving the worst reviews. This movie is to action films what the writings of Dashiel Hammet, Ross MacDonald and Max Allen Collins are to the detective novel. It’s a pulp movie. At the helm is one of the best film makers in Tinseltown, Walter Hill. Hill’s films are like dates with a raven-haired beauty that keep coming to mind long after the evening is over. “Bullet to the Head” is no exception.
Stallone is a mob hitman who finds himself on the outs with a new drug cartel. Coincidentally, a local detective is in a similar position, and unless he can corral key members of the cartel, could be facing a lifetime career behind a desk. The two meet and decide to join forces. The situation intensifies when Stallone’s daughter is kidnapped by the cartel.
Hill oversees this film like a master swordsman. He parries the viewer with alternating plot twists and humorous scenarios, thrusting periodically with intense action sequences. He also allows Sly to be Sly, and Stallone does not disappoint playing a man who realizes not all are created equal and some deserve to die. His antagonist, played exceptionally well by Jason Mamoa provides a showdown setup guaranteed to satisfy.
Combine these movies with Steven Seagal’s “True Justice” and Timothy Olyphant’s “Justified” television series, and 2013 is beginning in grand fashion for action genre fans. This is truly the most fun I’ve had at the beginning of the year in decades.
Fiore Mastracci is a former fight choreographer and stunt specialist, who now writes film reviews. He hosts and produces “Outtakes”, which is the longest-running film review program in the nation.