Geezers With Guns
Is the Activia motion picture past its prime?
Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The other weekend, a movie starring Sylvester Stallone called Bullet to the Head died at the box office. It made $4 million against a reported budget of $55 million. It was preceded in death by a picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger called The Last Stand, which made about $6 million against a budget of $30 million. These twin disasters have cast in doubt the future of a weird mini-genre that came out of nowhere a few years ago: the Activia action picture, starring 1980s movie stars banding together to shoot some guns and beat up much younger men.
Warner Brothers Pictures
The mini-genre burst into prominence following two freakish worldwide successes: The Expendables, with Stallone and a bunch of B-list guys like Dolph Lundgren; and Red, with Bruce Willis. These wildly popular flicks seemed to suggest that today’s moviegoers, like today’s rock-concert attendees, really enjoy seeing the old guys come together to perform their greatest hits one more time.
I missed the Arnold movie, but I did catch Bullet to the Head, the story of a cop and an assassin who team up against a corrupt machine in New Orleans. Despite the fact that Stallone looks like a Madame Tussaud’s version of himself, and that the plot is exceedingly dumb, the movie as a whole is dark, sleazy, jumpy, ruthless, and really quite compelling.
Bullet to the Head was directed by the amazingly stylish Walter Hill, who made The Warriors, 48 Hrs., and the criminally overlooked Geronimo, among many other memorable films. Even after a decadelong absence from the big screen, Hill is simply incapable of delivering a stiff. You can tell you’re in a pro’s hands the minute the picture begins, and it ends just as well, with Stallone and a man-mountain named Jason Momoa going at each other with fireman’s axes in the best-staged fight scene in memory.
The action-movie gods are fickle creatures. One year, you slip Taken into theaters around Super Bowl Sunday just to get rid of it, and it turns around and makes $150 million. Another year, you release a Stallone picture, a Schwarzenegger picture, and Parker (which I reviewed last week) to take advantage of the audience that came out for Taken, and that audience acts as though the multiplexes have been sprayed with man-repellent.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is THE WEEKLY STANDARD'S movie critic.