Ladies and gentlemen, or should I just say gentlemen because I can only assume no females read this blog? Either way…it’s been a while. It’s funny because in my years of being a conscious internet user I’ve had a handful of blogs. I’d review music, movies, TV shows, draw cartoons, or just write stuff about my life. And after a few months the blogs would just fade into obscurity and no one would care. So in October after reviewing Taken, I was really gassed out. I felt like this blog didn’t have a voice, that I was just being another annoying movie reviewer. Fast forward a few weeks after that when an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while said something to the effect of, “Hey man, I really like that action movie blog you write! What’s up next?” and the same thing happened to me quite recently, but more along the line of, “Why haven’t you been updating the blog more?” So that motivated me to sit down and turn on a flick…
A few months ago on the Shop Chillin podcast (episode #1) I explained this blog to a handful of my friends. During our conversation the Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction was brought up and I briefly mentioned how I was certain that it wouldn’t get a good review from me. So fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was trying to find a flick to get my blog-mojo back. I thought about what bases I haven’t covered yet. I’ve done a classic with Die Hard, I’ve done an ensemble flick with the Expendables, and I’ve done a so-bad-it’s-good movie with Road House. One thing I noticed was that I hadn’t really tackled a legitimately bad action movie. And with good reason! Who wants to subject themselves to a bad movie for the sake of research? Well…the answer is me. And I did.
The first thing you need to know about Abduction is that John Singleton directed it. The guy responsible for Boyz n the Hood. Yeah. I mean, he did go on to make some less than spectacular films, but seeing his name attached to this made me breathe a sigh of relief. I thought, ‘There’s no way it can be that bad if John Singleton is attached to it.’ Oh how wrong I was. This is easily one of the worst movies that I have ever seen in my life.
The plot is relatively simple, yet entirely too convoluted for its own good. Lautner plays Nathan, a ridiculously irresponsible high school senior. He and his friends burn money, ride around in fancy cars, and crash parties in the name of rebellion. His parents, Mara and Kevin, have him on a strict regiment of extreme combat training and unreal cardio (how else can he have those abs?) to punish him for his irresponsible ways, and send him to a psychiatrist played by Sigourney Weaver to stop apparent rage issues. Great. A smart, attractive, emotionally unstable 17 year old killing machine with a devil-may-care attitude towards life. What’s not to like? Oh, and Nathan is also attracted to his neighbor Karen (Lily Collins) who is his partner in a class project. On a whim Karen and Nathan are looking at missing children websites when they find a photo of a lost child that bears a striking resemblance to Nathan himself! Struggling to figure out who his parents are, who he is, what his feeling are for Lily, Nathan does the logical thing…calls the number listed on the website.
What happens after the phone call is basically the most absurd thing I have seen in film. Some terrorists come to Nathan’s house, kill his “parents” and let the entire suburban home EXPLODE. Yes folks, no need for subtlety. Nathan and Karen escape the fiery scene and find themselves on the run from these terrorists. Also tailing them is the CIA, lead by Alfred Molina. The secrets unravel and the movie continues. And then it ends. That’s my synopsis. If it’s not detailed enough for you…I’m not sorry. That’s really all there is to it. It’s not anything special.
The plot of this movie is awful. Apparently the terrorist, a fellow named Nikola Kozlow (played by Michael Nyqvist) needs Nathan alive as a source of leverage to get some document Nathan’s biological father has just conveniently stolen from him. So think of that plot in real time, keeping in mind the events of the movie take place over a mere two or three days.
- Nathan’s biological father steals Kozlow’s file.
- Nathan finds himself on the missing child site and calls the number to investigate.
- Kozlow suits up and takes action. His minions blow up Nathan’s house and proceed to stalk him.
- CIA follows suit in stalking.
That’s just way too convenient for me to even try to enjoy. Even ironically. It’s just bad. Flimsy writing. And apparently Alfred Molina’s character is not supposed to be trusted either, and Nathan figures him out in like 2 seconds just to keep him around in this grey area for the rest of the movie. Why have the protagonist figure out the twist and still keep the character around for the duration of the film? I have no clue.
Acting-wise this movie is an enigma. Alfred Molina is a fine actor, as is Sigourney Weaver. Not to mention Jason Isaacs plays Nathan’s adopted father. Even Nyqvist is good as Kozlow, regardless of how little he is given to work with. But Taylor Lautner is…awful. Aside from his physique, there is nothing to be impressed with in Lautner. His delivery is robotic and his facial expressions are non existent. And not to be rude, but whoever did Lily Collins’ makeup did their best to make her look like a 14 year old who is entirely average, yet the apple of Nathan’s eye. In 2011 when this movie came out, Lautner was on the fast track to being America’s favorite piece of male eye candy, and he’s paired with this run of the mill female. If all this flick meant to do was push Lautner as a star, they could have done a much better job pairing him with a female that rivaled his apparent attractiveness. Call that a minor gripe, but in a flick where the whole point is to sit back and be entertained, that’s a huge issue for the straight male audience.
So, nit picking about females aside, let’s get down to brass tacks, the damn veggies. The action. It’s bad. Surprised? Sure, Lautner can kind of do parkour and MMA style chokes, but every time he does it’s unreal and annoying. Calling it uninspired would be a compliment. There’s a sequence in a train where Lautner goes toe to toe with a middle aged terrorist that would get his ass kicked by the 17 year old killing machine within a few seconds. Somehow the dude manages to hold his own before being choked to death and tossed out the window. And the worst part is he gets a few shots in on Nathan, like that’s even believable. The most insulting part of the film, the final nail in the coffin, is the finale. Nathan agrees to meet Nikola in a public place to give him the incriminating document. What public place does he choose? A Pittsburgh Pirates game. Really? And the final action sequence is Nathan running away from an armed Nikola…just to see him get gunned down by a sniper who is revealed to be Nathan’s birth father?! Really?! None of that MMA training gets put to use against the MAIN VILLAIN?! It’s obscene.
Don’t watch Abduction. Just don’t. I basically spoiled the whole movie anyway. I have no problem with these throwaway flicks that are just intended to boost up an actors credits, but this goes beyond that. This movie isn’t fun, it isn’t easy to watch, it isn’t even mindless enough to just turn on when you’re hungover. And I think just one more time I should mention that it stars Taylor Lautner. Just one last reminder about that for you in case you forgot. An action flick starring an actor from the Twilight series? It just doesn’t make any sense. Yuck.
So…what’s next on my plate? Let’s try another classic to get back into the groove of things. How does Predator sound?
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Taylor Lautner
(All photos and videos of Abduction are copyright Lionsgate films)
In the 2000’s the action genre was in a bit of an odd landscape. In the 80’s and 90’s the world had the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and a handful of others in peak condition and age making kick-ass flicks, yet as the 2000’s dawned a new type of blockbuster hit. The comic book movie. In the 80’s studios would dish out money for sequel after sequel of anything that involved a bulked up foreigner firing a machine gun. In the 2000’s we had 3 X-Men movies, 4 Spider-Man movies, 2 Hulk and Fantastic Four movies and a slew of others that dominated the box office and has continued to do so into the 2010’s. Sure, there were a handful of action franchises like Crank, The Transporter, Craig’s Bond movies, a Bourne trilogy, and a few Terminator movies, but even standalone flicks, there aren’t that many memorable action movies from this past decade in comparison to memorable comic book ones. It’s like the genre had lost its relevance almost entirely.
Enter Liam Neeson. A 56 year old man whose last memorable role was the voice of a Jesus-like lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. Sure, he was in Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Batman Begins, and served as the only legitimate actor in Star Wars: Episode I, but as far as the 2008 atmosphere of cinema was concerned, Neeson was not really jumping out on anyone’s radar. And then Taken came out.
Taken pits Neeson as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, a divorcee trying hard to spend time with his teenage daughter Kim. The only thing getting in the way of that is his ex-wife’s husband Stuart, a very wealthy individual who provides Kim a lifestyle Mills cant even fathom. But fear not! Mills is a brilliant CIA protector living in a ranch house researching karaoke machines that will hopefully make his daughter forget the wealth of Stuart. Maybe he should have just stuck with CIA instead of competing with that kind of bank…
After his heavily researched birthday karaoke machine is upstaged when Stuart buys Kim a horse, Mills goes home and acts depressed for a few days before he gets a call from Kim asking if he’ll have ice cream with her. Jumping for joy, Mills goes to the local ice cream parlor only to find that Kim needs his permission to travel to France to see museums, er to see U2, er to party. Mills, after a series of “Come on Dad!”-like statements, breaks down with all sorts of ridiculous requests and sends Kim and her friend off to Europe. What a reasonable, concerned father. Then, once in Europe, Kim is kidnapped abruptly by a group of strange men. Thankfully, she is on the phone with her father as the captors drag her from under the bed and take her away. We get one of the most memorable bits of dialogue the movie has to offer.
So, in true CIA fashion, Mills gets on the phone, finds out that Kim is probably being sold as a prostitute and only has approximately 4 days before she’s either sold or dead. The rest of the movie is a blur of absolute ridiculousness. Mills gets to Paris and proceeds to cause a ruckus on his way to finding Kim. The action only dies down briefly for Mills as he attempts to get information from his friend and fellow former operative turned desk jockey Jean-Claude. When Jean-Claude tries some funny business Mills promptly shoots his wife in the leg before shouting the Monty Python one-liner “It’s a flesh wound!” From there on out havoc is wreaked and shots are fired in very, very exciting fashion.
The cast of this movie is more or less inconsequential aside from Neeson, who shines in this role. He conveys the need to get things done quickly and effectively perfectly. And for a guy that’s not a buff macho man, Neeson really brings it in the fights. There are only a small handful of other characters that matter to the plot aside from Mills and Kim. Stuart and ex-wife Lenore, played by Xander Berkeley and Famke Janssen respectively are perfect as the stuck up rich couple being thwarted by the humble Mills. Aside from that no one else really matters identity-wise. There are a string of evil people that lie between Kim and her father, goons, brothel owners, investors, basically every job that is incorporated in the prostitution business gets caught in the crossfire. I think this entire lack of caring for the middle-men makes the audience identify with Mills a whole lot more than they would if we saw a bit more of the bad guys. The movie is manic and we feel the rush of Mills’ need to find his daughter and maybe we don’t catch names and roles of certain people, but when Kim might die, we just gotta move with Mills.
Action-wise Taken is great. It’s a lot of ‘real world’ style action. While Neeson does go through dozens of guys, he does so believably. Sure, there are times when I was like “Really?” but more often than not it gets overshadowed by a resounding “Damn!” after Neeson does something amazing. There’s not too much diversity in the action itself, though this movie is much more about finding Kim than it is about glorified violence. The action is in the journey, not necessarily in the fights. The pace created by Neeson’s need to finish the job before his daughter is killed makes every scene feel important. It’s not like some of these movies where guys kind of toss ideas around in empty bunkers, Neeson NEEDS every minute that passes to help him find his daughter. He can’t step back, he can only step forward, otherwise his daughter might die.
“So yeah…we’re going to blow things up eventually but in the meantime this is a knife that I bought.”
At the end of the day, Taken is a modern action classic. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it did reinvigorate a genre that truly needed something different. I’m truly upset at the critical panning of Taken 2, but you know what guys (I say guys because I can only assume there are no females reading this)? I may end up seeing it, just as a showing of faith I have towards this film, this classic. I mean, I couldn’t even think of quirky photos and fake quotes to use so you know this flick has done something to me!
Ahhhh…you know what’s next folks? It’s a Mission. And it’s Impossible. And it stars Tom Cruise. Oh yeah.
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Liam Neeson
(Taken photos and video are copyright EuropaCorp, The Expendables photo and video are copyright Lionsgate.)
First and foremost I apologize for the heinous amount of time it took for me to write this review. There were several instances where I found myself writing and then just dozing off because it was so boring. There’s a line that must be drawn when reviewing glorified B movies, and it took me a long while to realize exactly where that line is. So again, apologies to those that may have been waiting for this….
When one thinks of great ensembles in film, their minds immediately jump to the likes of Ocean’s 11, Heat, The Departed, Crash and a slew other critically acclaimed flicks. Stuff that most adults could watch and say, “Now this is a piece of art!” When I think of great ensembles one film immediately comes to mind. And using the term ‘film’ is a stretch. We’re talking 2010’s The Expendables. A film that features more testosterone than a middle school locker room, more over the top personalities than a high school theater production and more “hell yeah’s” than a college frat party.
The movie is essentially a who’s who of action. First and foremost we have the director, writer, producer and star Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross. Stallone is no stranger to the genre, and he’s certainly no stranger to the ways of awful acting. Ross is the leader of a ragtag group that is equal parts biker gang, thrill seeker, and mercenary. They take money where they can and do whatever is asked of them. Most of the time killing is involved, intentional or not. Each member of the group exemplifies a few general characteristics, and their characters grow solely based on those characteristics alone. Stallone’s Ross is the leader of the pack, a man who has seen so much action in his years that he may just lose all sense of dignity. Then we have Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, a knife aficionado dealing with a one dimensional romantic relationship. Jet Li is next, as Yin Yang, the Asian karate guy. How politically correct. Then there’s Dolph Lundgren as the phyiscally imposing Gunnar Jensen, a man on the brink of losing his marbles. And rounding out the group is token black guy Terry Crews as token black guy Hale Caesar and Randy Couture as emotionally unstable Toll Road. These guys are joined occasionally by semi-retired Expendable Tool, played perfectly by Mickey Rourke.
In this scene, Rourke’s tool was enjoying semi-retirement.
With the team assembled, the crew begins their journey on a routine hostage rescue situation. After introducing Lundgren’s loose cannon personality by having him literally halve a man and attempt to hang a pirate, the group returns home and gives him the boot for putting Yin Yang’s life on the line. Shortly thereafter Ross is offered a job. He goes to a church to hear the deal and meets Mr. Church and Trent Mauser, played by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without as much as a punch swung, the three icons chew up the scenery in what may be the best scene in the movie. Arnold’s Mauser turns down the mission because it’s too crazy, and obviously Ross accepts. So Statham and Stallone inspect the island, realize it’s a foolish mission and go home, wherein Stallone realizes that he’s left behind a culture that needs someone like him. Tool sits down with Ross and the two discuss a previous event that left Tool dead inside, and how he could have made a difference in the world. This is the one and only scene where genuine acting ability is utilized. Motivated by his friends words, Ross boards his plane to go back and realizes that all of the Expendables are with him. The rest of the movie involves waterboarding, men punching women, explosions and a flurry of awesomeness. Did I mention Eric Roberts and David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) lead the bad guys, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is their number one hitman?
“I’m down to punch a lady in the face. Who are you to judge me?”
Now, to the meat of this film. The action. As I said previously the first bit of action in this movie is a torso being blown off. And you know what’s great? Even though I’m spoiling that, it’s still absolutely awesome. The whole introductory scene does a nice job at placing a bit of a disagreement between Statham and Stallone’s characters at what is a better weapon, a knife or a pistol? This theme is the kind of theme that brands your movie as a classic. Screw man vs. society or the meaning of life, I want to know whether a knife or a pistol is better. Call me crazy! One thing that this flick does really well is diversify the action. It’s not like every scene is all punches or torsos being blown off. There’s a nice variety of things being destroyed, whether they be people, palaces, docks, helicopters…even a basketball gets deflated. Another thing that Stallone did was pair up the fights well. He knew that this flick was every action junkies wet dream, and he delivered the pain in the best ways possible. We get to see the two faced Gunnar Jensen turn on his friend Yin Yang and have the brute force of Dolph Lundgren take on the quick paced Jet Li. Pro wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin gets to have a fist fight with mixed martial arts icon Randy Couture. Given this cast, we get to see a small handful of dream fights. Kudos must also be given to the inclusion of the characters in these fights. Too many action films suffer from generic action, people fighting each other, in this movie we see these generic stereotypes play right up to their names. The best of whom in my opinion is Statham. I’d seen him in more serious movies like Snatch and thought he was okay, but he really oozes action star. He delivers the one liners perfectly, has some killer fight presence, and just knows how to perform on the stage that is set. Terry Crews is definitely another guy that kicks some major ass and has a very bright future in these types of films if he so chooses. His effortless sense of humor makes Hale Caesar seem much more than a guy with a razor blade and a machine gun.
“Next time I’ll deflate all your balls.” is the actual line in this scene.
So the verdict is this. Understanding fully that you are going into a movie that was almost direct to DVD, The Expendables delivers in spades. There is some awful dialogue performed by guys who could care less about it, and there are some amazing action displays. Stallone picked a great team and used his immense knowledge as one of the forefathers of the genre to craft a terribly good movie. Testosterone for the win.
People have been asking me, “What’s next?” and my response is “It rhymes with Chode Blouse.”
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin
(All images and video are copyright Millenium Films)
One question that has plagued the internet since its inception is who is the greatest action star of all time. A fair question in its own right, but with a such a grand spectrum of actions movies, how can we judge these icons of film? Well I have devised a four elements that I am judging action stars based upon. Would you like to know what the criteria is? Well let’s take a look:
1. Screen Presence: This one is simple. How does the star appear on screen? A good example of this would be based upon the 1985 classic Commando. We have Arnold Schwartzenegger one on side, ripped, looking like a boss. And then opposite him, the steam-filled Vernon Wells as the infamous Bennett. And with this I don’t mean to say every action star needs to look like 1985 Arnold, or NOT look like 1985 Vernon Wells (I think this blog post is the most times Vernon’s name has been used in a long time) as much as it means that action stars need to stand out in the world he’s in.
2. Machismo: The original working title I had for this category was ‘One Line Execution’ but to me that doesn’t handle it right. There’s a lot of notoriously terrible one liners (should Vernon Wells be brought back into this?) that are delivered so stupidly, with such lack of any true acting ability, that they are utterly ballsy. Now in that same vein we have legitimate screen actors who appear in several action movies (Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, etc.) who aren’t necessarily handed goofy one liners, but still deliver that…machismo. So to summarize, this is the badass-ery of the action star. If screen presence is how they fit into the movie, machismo is how the movie fits them (see Dwayne Johnson’s entire filmography).
3. Fight Prowess: Simple. How does said action star stand in fights. And I don’t mean ‘does he win?’ I mean moreso, does he belong there in the first place (oh hey Vernon Wells).
4. Overall DAMN Factor: This is a bit of an average of all of those with a twist. The DAMN factor is based on the visceral reactions these stars give in movies. How many times do they do something that makes me as a viewer go ‘DAMN!’ and possibly rewind it several times? You can be the worst action star of all time but one badass moment that makes me go ‘WOW’ gets you credit in my book.
So that explains what goes into the rankings…a few more bullet point notes before I start actually reviewing movies…
-I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what types of movies fall into the action category. Do the Rush Hour and Beverly Hills Cop series count because they are action/comedies? Does the Indiana Jones quadrilogy count because it’s action/adventure? Do war movies count? Do straight up spoof movies like Black Dynamite count? Do kung fu and sci-fi fall under the action umbrella? And my answer is this: I’ll watch these movies and make the call. If I stayed solely in the ‘action’ genre I’d get bored. I will certainly take movies that are action heavy with real plots and legitimate directors into account, but I might avoid some sub-genres altogether so this blog doesn’t get too broad (Spider-Man is action heavy, but how does he fit in the rankings next to the Hulk?).
-Recommend me flicks! I have a handful of movies that I want to review, but when presented with cool movies I may have never heard of, I may jump to those instead of all of Vernon Wells’ filmography.
-Sorry Vernon, for saying your name so many times in this post!
Want to hear a spoiler for what my first reviewed movie is? It rhymes with Plexplendible.
Remember those lazy mornings/afternoons/evenings in college on the weekends when your body was still recovering from the previous nights festivities and all you could muster up the energy to do was flick on the TV? Yeah. Those were the days. Now, I was lucky enough to attend a university prestigious enough to provide their students with free HBO, so rather than trodding along through the world of cable, I got prime entry to the world of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Madagascar, What Happens in Vegas, Over Her Dead Body and a slew of other movies that I was not in the target demographic of. However, lodged between the chick flicks and kids movies there were always a handful of gems, many of which featured machine guns, awful dialogue, and explosions that looked about as real Jar Jar Binks. I know these kinds of movies aren’t gems to everyone, but to me, they hit the spot. And I think one reason why these movies stuck to me, and continue to, is because as a young person I wasn’t really exposed to them. While not to say I was raised in a strictly PG home, I just missed a lot of classics and as I grew up never got around to seeing them. So as I’ve gotten older and gone to the movies to see movies like Fast Five, The Expendables, Shoot ‘Em Up, Taken and a whole buttload more of modern action movies, some of the cliches and beats are lost to me. And I want to discover the best and worst of those cliches and beats. Because I’m a geek, and that’s what geeks do.
So, having that in mind, I also want to determine which action star is the best. I plan on devising a simple set of categories that highlight the best parts of each action star. Now I know someone like Dolph Lundgren is no Marlon Brando, so I doubt you’ll see “Legitimate Acting Skills” as a category, more like “One-Liner Delivery” or “On-Screen Presence”. And as I watch more movies, and absorb more of these stars, I can put my finger on who exactly is the best action hero! It’s exciting, I know.
So, sit back, relax. Get ready to read my thoughts on some of the best and worst action movies of all time. I’m going to enjoy watching them!
P.S. A special thanks is due to Blame Society Productions‘ Matt Sloan, whose web series Welcome to the Basement inspired me watch classics I haven’t seen. Thanks!
Bulletproof can’t come soon enough…..