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.
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.
But the failures of Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand are calling the notion into question—and pity the poor studio chief who ponied up $70 million for a new action picture called The Tomb to be released later this year costarring Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He must be sweating bullets.
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.
No matter; I was one of only two people to see Bullet to the Head in an auditorium that can seat 700. Now the only man who can save the day for the Activia action picture is Bruce Willis, who’s a decade younger but still a little long in the tooth to be cavorting with a rocket launcher. He has two films about to premiere: a fourth sequel to Die Hard, set in Moscow, and something called G. I. Joe: Retaliation, in which he evidently plays the original G. I. Joe.
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.
Might this audience have been so discomfited by the post-Sandy Hook “national conversation” about guns that it has decided to opt out of one of its guilty pleasures? It is unquestionably the case that these movies make fetishistic use of automatic weapons; the guns are photographed more slowly, more lovingly, more lasciviously than the naked women. Indeed, the love affair between man and rifle is a key selling point, as the 20 minutes of trailers before Bullet to the Head made clear: In every one, there are four or five shots of a lead character firing off round after round in glamorous closeup.
Action pictures are the very definition of mindless escapism: They offer their viewers a way out of the real world. If the images used to sell these movies happen to summon up unpleasant news stories that make potential audience members uncomfortable and unhappy, those people might just avoid such movies precisely because they don’t want to think about the unpleasantness. They don’t want to think about anything, really. Bullet to the Head certainly doesn’t want them to think, but with a title like that, how can they help it?
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is THE WEEKLY STANDARD'S movie critic.
What's at stake.5:23 PM, Jun 13, 2011 • By EMILY SCHULTHEIS
If you are growing tired of hearing all the gruesome details of politicians’ personal lives, you are not alone. But you may also find yourself troubled about what these stories say about the state of our culture.
The transgressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
What with Arnold and DSK, male transgression is once again in the news. Let’s not equate the two cases—one is forgivable, the other, if the accusations are true, is not. Together with these male transgressions is the reaction to them, still more interesting. The reaction shows the power of morality to produce disgust and disgrace at the sight of these male weaknesses. Even though morality can’t prevent such excesses, it won’t let go of us.
Not pumped up.3:53 PM, Jan 6, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
In October, the Left and the media reveled in Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement of Obamacare, but my, how times have changed.
Edwards? Kerry? Whatever. The real action in the Golden State is Arnold and three important ballot initiatives.11:00 PM, Mar 1, 2004 • By BILL WHALEN
JUST AS LEAP DAY occurs once every four years, there's the quadrennial tradition of California having little--if any--say in the presidential nominating process.
The Governator looks like all things to all Republicans--and trouble for Democrats.9:20 AM, Jan 7, 2004 • By BILL WHALEN
IF ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER hasn't turned Sacramento into a circus, then why the big top on the north lawn of the State Capitol? The outdoor tent was erected to accommodate the media crush that accompanied last night's State of the State Address--there wasn't sufficient room inside the grand old building for the 250-plus journalists who wanted to crash the party. Talk about California politics as unusual: the Governator's first appearance before the legislature, followed by wintertime spin patrol al fresco.
Governor Schwarzenegger takes on the Democratic legislature and looks to terminate California's budget woes.11:00 PM, Dec 4, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
BY MIDNIGHT West Coast time tonight, Arnold Schwarzenegger will have solved California's fiscal mess. Well, not solved it, exactly, but he is poised to deliver on the last of his big three recall promises. The Governator wants the legislature to sign off on a $15 billion deficit bond, which voters will have to approve next March. Schwarzenegger could get a version of that as soon as tonight, as well as a spending cap (he calls it a "never again spending limit") that gives him more control over the budget process in fiscal fights to come.
From the December 1, 2003 issue: Conservatives discover the downside of being the majority.Dec 1, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 12 • By FRED BARNES
CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS were lining up votes last week for a compromise bill creating a prescription drug benefit for America's 40 million elderly. At the same time, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle was waving a placard with a picture of a lemon, the letters "Rx," and a slash across both. He chanted, "No more lemons!" In London, President Bush was delivering a speech in defense of the use of military force and solidifying his bond with British prime minister Tony Blair.
A look at Governor Schwarzenegger's roadmap for his first weeks in office.12:00 PM, Nov 18, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
THIS IS "JFK WEEK" on The History Channel, which is not the only media outlet obsessed with the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Gavin Newsom looks to buck the liberal trend and win the San Francisco mayor's office by trying to fix the city's homeless problem.11:00 PM, Nov 3, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
PRESIDENT BUSH has yet to set foot in San Francisco since taking office 33 months ago. Although he's visiting Southern California to inspect the wildfire devastation, the itinerary doesn't include a detour north. Which is unfortunate.
Now that they've got the Governator, are Californians ready for Sen. Dennis Miller?11:00 PM, Oct 27, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
IS CALIFORNIA READY for Dennis Miller as its next United States senator? Laugh if you like, but some Republican strategists (including a few who just sent a certain movie star to Sacramento) see Miller, the sardonic comedian whose late-night talk show lasted just a little longer than Wesley Clark's Iowa campaign, as wholly capable of defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer next year.
From the October 27, 2003 issue: GOP officials don't like to talk about it, but they have become the dominant party.Oct 27, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 07 • By FRED BARNES
A FTER THE 1972 AND 1980 ELECTIONS, Republicans said political realignment across the country would soon make them the dominant party. It didn't happen. Now, despite highly favorable signs in the 2002 midterm elections and the California recall, Republicans fear a jinx. Realignment? they ask. What realignment?
Matthew Dowd, President Bush's polling expert, notes heavy Republican turnout in 2002 and the recall, a splintering of the Democratic coalition, Republican gains among Latinos, and shrinking Democratic voter identification--all unmistakable signs of realignment.
The Governator and George W. Bush get together in California to discuss how they can help one another.12:00 AM, Oct 17, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
CALIFORNIA MAY or may not factor into President Bush's reelection strategy, but at least the White House knows the local history. The President and Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger met yesterday at Riverside's Mission Inn, which has hosted GOP presidents as far back as William McKinley. A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt re-planted a navel orange tree on the hotel's grounds. It's also where Richard and Pat Nixon were married, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned.
Maybe that's why partnering was the dominant theme of yesterday's tête-à-tête.