Flashback: Call to Action Movie Buffs

Fri, Jun 19, 2009

DRock, Flashback Fridays, Joe


Today’s Flashback epic takes us back to the infancy of the LAH:  The Fall of 2004 when Joe and DRock talked about their rating system.  While some of the ratings may have changed since then (Joe’s craptacular movies now receive Richard Geres), the true spirit of their meanings remain.  Joe and DRock both discuss the initial reasons why they chose Seagal and Van Damme for good movies and Lou Diamond Phillips and Dolph Lundgrens for bad movies.  To check out the current rating system for the entire LAH roster, click here.


There is something wrong with the world today when names like Keanu Reeves, Jackie Chan and Tom Cruise define the genre of action movies.  On Feb. 3, 1959, the music died. At the dawn of the new millennium, we are fearing that mankind is beginning to see the end of the action genre.  While comic book and fantasy epics have taken over the big screen, action movies have faded into obscurity.

The few attempts to resurrect the mindlessly entertaining category have given birth to hideous S.W.A.T.-like offspring that for some reason attempt to incorporate elaborate plot twists and overly-special special effects to a genre defined by simplicity.

Last Action Heroes is here to guide you through the haze of special collector DVDs and to the discount bin at Pamida.  The Badger Herald just celebrated its 35th anniversary.  Joe Ziemer and I are proud to bring you the next great tradition in this paper’s esteemed history.

So sit back, strap on your seat belts, grab a case of Blatz and allow the Last Action Heroes to be your tour guides to the wonderful world of TBS, USA and UPN late night.  Given the relative simplicity and general lack of intellectual stimulation of a good, old-fashioned action flick, it’s pretty easy to break down our grading criteria into a three-tiered system.  Being a special cinematic breed, the action movie deserves more than a mere star-based rating scale.  The Last Action Heroes do not award stars; they award action stars.

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Since the average video store has far more action clunkers than action masterpieces collecting dust on its shelves, let’s start with the bottom.  And by bottom, of course, I’m referring to the one and only Dolph Lundgren.  Yes, Dolph Lundgren.  Before “The Punisher” became a 2004 blockbuster, Dolph made it a 1990 disaster.  He was He-Man in “Masters of the Universe,” Drago in “Rocky IV” and starred opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Universal Soldier.”

After that, he settled into a nice little run of horrible movies like “The Minion” and “Bridge of Dragons” that no one could stomach.  Thus, a truly craptacular movie will earn a Dolph Lundgren.

In between the esteemed Mr. Lundgren and the highest mark an action film can receive lies the gray area, or as I like to call it, Chuck Norris land.  A solid action hero, Norris can usually be counted on for a solid showing (“Delta Force,” “Missing in Action”), but something always seems to be missing.  Movies garnering a Chuck Norris are decent rental choices, but not quite worth spending five dollars on in the discount DVD bin.  Now it’s time to move to the top of the action mountain. The pinnacle of action stardom.

That’s right, the man himself … Steven Seagal.  Synonymous with action, bad fashion sense and unintentional comedy, Seagal sets the standard for the genre.  With his trademark ponytail and intimidating whisper, Seagal’s movies were (I’m excluding some of his newer works here, but that’s another topic for another day nearly guaranteed to entertain)  “Under Siege,” “On Deadly Ground,” “Hard to Kill,” the list goes on and on.

Has Dolph Lundgren been in any recent Mountain Dew commercials?

I think not.

So what must a grade-Seagal action movie possess?  Well, for starters, there best be some action.  I want to see some stuff blowing up and some bad guys getting pulverized.  Check that — not “some bad guys,” there should be “a lot of bad guys” receiving their comeuppances.

A good action movie also contains plenty of laughable one-liners.  The true essence of the action flick, the one-liner is always the most memorable aspect of any movie.  Who can forget “I’ll take you to the bank, Senator Trent … the blood bank,” from “Hard to Kill”?

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, I do not care about a fancy plotline.  No action movie is ever going to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, so please stop trying.  Keep it simple, and keep it enjoyable.

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drockLike my esteemed colleague Joe Ziemer, I have taken on the role of Ebert in our effort to bring you every viewpoint and angle when it comes to action movies.  Thus, I have devised my own rating system comprised of various action stars and fruitcakes.  Staying in line with the action-stars grading system, the task was upon me to find my own equivalent of Steven Seagal.  Names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kurt Russell instantly came to mind.

However, these great men have strikes against them for which they will never recover.  Schwarzenegger starred in 1996’s “Jingle all the Way.” A true action hero will never star in a film whose tagline is “Two Dads, One Toy, No Prisoners.”

Then I thought about Kurt Russell. Seemed like an intelligent choice.  After all, this was a guy who not only escaped from New York, but Los Angeles as well.  However, one thing stuck out.  Upon close examination of his filmology, Russell has a long history of playing Elvis.  A little less conversation and a lot more action is needed for Russell to take the top spot.  The only obvious alternative to Schwarzenegger and Russell is the one and only pretty boy Jean-Claude Van Damme.

What more can you say about a guy who inspired the character Johnny Cage in the first “Mortal Kombat”? We’re talking about a guy whose fight scenes are so intense he avoids filming them in the United States for fear of being sued.

This is a guy who willingly gouged the eye of an extra during a swordfight while filming the stellar “Cyborg.”  And finally, this is the guy who enlisted the help of martial-arts legend Frank Dux to help him with his directorial debut only to turn around and deny Dux any share of the profits.  Van Damme subsequently starred as Dux in the film.

His film record is like a chunk of Swiss cheese.  Good films, bad films, what film did you say?  They’re all there.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this man was king.  “Bloodsport,” “Double Impact,” “Universal Soldier” and “Lionheart” define this former student of classical ballet.

Then in 1996, Van Damme did what every Milwaukee Brewer does when receiving a large contract — he started sucking.  Films like “Streetfighter” notched him a career-high $6.2 million.  He followed up that epic with such classics as “Knock Off,” “The Quest” and “Double Team.”  While “Battlefield Earth” may have been more entertaining than some of these pieces of crap, Van Damme continued to embody the true spirit of an action hero by single-handedly killing thousands of opponents, delivering stinging oneliners, and making the ultimate jump in an action hero’s career progression: the role of producer.  Van Damme directed what many consider the last true classic of the 20th century in “Coyote Moon.”  With a tagline of “Left for dead. Burning for revenge,” we can be assured that Van Damme deserves the title of top action hero.

Next in line come movies that grab your attention in the previews, but leave you yearning for more when it’s over.  Kurt Russell owns this genre.

Such flicks as “Miracle” and “Captain Ron” successfully eliminated Russell from being eligible for the top spot.  Look at Van Damme’s filmology and you won’t find a single deviation off the action star course.  What keeps Russell in this category is the sheer number of action films he appeared in.  Even in “Miracle,” Russell is an intimidating figure.  Instead of prisoners foaming at the mouth, Russell’s enemies in “Miracle” are Russians and foreigners.  Like many of his previous films, Russell gets the job done but leaves us wanting more.

And finally, for the bottom of the barrel.  Here is a guy that Hollywood keeps plugging in its movies and nobody can figure out why.  That man is Lou Diamond Phillips.  If Hollywood was the NFL, this guy would be the equivalent of a Ty Detmer or Patrick Ramsey.  Everyone knows he sucks, but somehow every year he finds a job.  I mean, how many films has this guy actually had a starring role in?

One diamond by Lou Phillips is 1993’s “Extreme Justice,” where Louie is part of a secret LAPD division targeting high-profile criminals.  The term police brutality doesn’t apply to them.  With a tagline of “They’re an elite task force.  They target high-profile criminals, learn how they work, … and SHUT THEM DOWN,” you can expect nothing less than craptacular.

So prepare yourself.  In the coming semester, it shall be lights, camera, ACTION!

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