Sylvester Stallone

Rambo: Last Blood (2019, Adrian Grunberg)

Sitting and reflecting on Rambo: Last Blood and the franchise’s thirty-seven year legacy, the best idea of the fixing the film is probably just to have Sylvester Stallone do a bunch of shots training horses. He seems really good with them. And he doesn’t seem really good at anything in Last Blood. It’s a far less physical Rambo for Stallone, who seems far less interested in being a septuagenarian action star than quickly turning around corners after the villains end up in his traps. There’s one big physical action sequence for Stallone though; he seems able enough. Just the script doesn’t offer any good action possibilities and director Grunberg is incompetent.

Last Blood is a film with limited possibilities. It’s not like Rambo is a great part with a lot of potential. He’s a pretty generic Stallone protagonist here. He’s still got PTSD, which Last Blood showcases with hilariously bad flashback newsreel footage because no one in the film’s post-production departments care about their dignity. Maybe they all used pseudonyms. Doesn’t matter, because the flashback footage goes away, along with when Stallone gets visual flashes when he’s out being Rambo (in a Mexican night club), and then never shows up after a doctor warns he’s got a concussion. Because Last Blood isn’t just bad—it’s boringly bad. Grunberg’s really, really, really bad. Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick’s script is frequently dumb, then dumber. Lots of bad things happen because Stallone doesn’t operate with forethought. So when he eventually plans how his enemies are going to attack him so he can set traps to ensnare them… well, he didn’t have that ability for forethought earlier.

The movie’s real simple. Stallone’s living on his childhood ranch, training horses, with fellow old person housekeeper Adriana Barraza and her granddaughter, Yvette Monreal. Stallone’s “Uncle John Rambo” and just wishes Monreal would spend her life training horses with him instead of going off to college. She’s really smart, even though her father left the family after the mom died. Oh, and he was physically abusive. Apparently to a dying wife (Last Blood has a lot of problems with its timeline; again, the script’s dumb). Barraza and Stallone ought to be cute together. With a sitcom intern doing a script polish and someone who could competently direct a soap opera, there would be potential with the setup. But it would take someone to write a character for Stallone to play; after thirty-seven years of Rambo as a caricature, what if we got a real character in the last movie?

We’ll never know because Last Blood’s Rambo is pretty thin. He’s also terrible at monologues. In trying to prove there’s room for a septuagenarian Rambo, Last Blood shows why there’s not. Then again, maybe if Grunberg weren’t so terrible, the movie would be better.

Anyway.

Things go wrong when Monreal goes to find her dad, ignoring Stallone and Barraza’s advice. Monreal could be good; Grunberg doesn’t know how to direct his actors and she needs direction, but she’s at least sympathetic. Sympathy isn’t exactly weakness in Last Blood, but it’s pointless. Politically, Last Blood is interestingly hands off. The wall is a failure, but because it’s a fool’s errand. As far as bad hombres… well, Last Blood makes the case every single woman living in Mexico should be granted asylum. There are also some other odd spots, like when Stallone wishes he never became Rambo and hadn’t enlisted. Also when he tells Monreal everyone in the world’s bad and she’s sheltered and she needs to not go to Mexico to find her dad but, it’s okay if she does, because her uncle has a very particular set of skills he has acquired over a very long career.

And Monreal goes through a lot. With considerable dignity since Grunberg’s so crappy. Last Blood’s never scary. Not even when good people are in danger. Sometimes because of how Grunberg and not good editors Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller cut the scene, sometimes because of how Stallone and Cirulnick’s write the scene, sometimes just because Grunberg can’t figure out how to do an establishing shot. Technically, Last Blood is rather crappy. The editors, Grunberg, Brian Tyler’s score is godawful; but it’s Brendan Galvin’s photography. Galvin’s not good. Grunberg’s awful but he’s awful with bad cinematography. It’s a mundane ugly but it’s an ugly.

Because Last Blood, Stallone seems to think, is a Western. Based on the script, based on his performance, it’s a Western. Set in Arizona. And Mexico. And Stallone has a farm house and trains horses and on and on. It ought to be simple to do some Western. Grunberg can’t. Because he’s awful.

There’s also the whole thing with Stallone building an intricate tunnel system and living in it, going up to hang out with Barraza, Monreal, and the horses, but otherwise he lives in the tunnel system under his family farm, which ought to be an uncomfortable statement on Vietnam vets, but isn’t because Last Blood’s got jack to do with Stallone as Rambo as veteran. It’s really, really, really weird.

The other thing about doing a Last Rambo? Stallone’s always been interesting because he’s grown as filmmaker, his ambitions have changed, matured, developed. Last Blood doesn’t come off like a passion project or a personal ambition. Even though, after the first batch of end credits roll, you do have to wonder if Stallone tinkered with the end, which is what got Kirk Douglas to walk on the first movie, or if they always planned on a stupid twist. It’s hard to say, because so much of it is stupid. Also… doesn’t matter.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adrian Grunberg; screenplay by Matthew Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Dan Gordon and Stallone and on the character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Yariv Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, and Les Weldon; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John), Yvette Monreal (Gabrielle), Adriana Barraza (Maria), Óscar Jaenada (Victor Martinez), Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Hugo Martínez), Fenessa Pineda (Jizzel), and Paz Vega (Carmen Delgado).


Creed II (2018, Steven Caple Jr.)

At no point in Creed II does anyone remark on the odds of Michael B. Jordan boxing the son of the man who killed his father. It’s all matter-of-fact. The sportscasters all seem to think it’s perfectly normal Dolph Lundgren spent the thirty-ish years since Rocky IV training his son to someday defeat the son of his adversary in that film. Well, his first adversary. Because Sylvester Stallone is actually the one who beat Lundgren back in Rocky IV, something this film barely acknowledges. Because Creed II isn’t a father and son movie. There’s a nod to it for Lundgren and son Florian Munteanu, which is weird and cheap as Lundgren’s been mentally abusing musclebound giant Munteanu for decades and probably physically as well. But Stallone and Jordan? They don’t have some de facto father and son thing going here. Neither of them are really in it enough.

Of course, they’re in the movie. Lots. Most of the time. The film splits between Lundgren and Munteanu, Jordan, and Stallone. Stallone visits Jordan from time to time and maybe once vice versa, but they’re separate. Except for training montages and the setup to training montages. Juel Taylor and Stallone’s screenplay is absolutely terrified of developing the relationship between Jordan and Stallone here. The script also isn’t big on… well… good character development. Jordan, Stallone, and Lundgren all have character development arcs. Jordan, for example, has to understand why he wants to fight Munteanu. As well as have a baby with probably wife but they seem to have cut the wedding scene, which is weird, Tessa Thompson. At its best, Creed II is about Jordan and Thompson and then everything else, Stallone and Lundgren filling out the background. They’re looming threats.

But Stallone’s arc? It’s hackneyed and rushed. Creed II moves through its two hour and ten minute run time but it skips over everything to stick to its big boxing match finale schedule. No matter how much time gets spent giving Jordan and Thompson their salad days time, it’s still not enough. Thompson’s initial pseudo-character arc fizzles fast. The subsequent hints at more for her are occasionally deft, but really just keep Thompson in a holding pattern until it’s time’s up and it’s fight night. Jordan’s arc is written with an utter lack of depth or ambition. It’s all on Jordan’s charm to get through some of that arc. It’s like he’s hinting at the better performance in cut scenes. Because Creed II feels light. Even if it isn’t actually light, the character development is way too thin. The script’s mercenary in a way the rest of the film is not.

Director Caple takes Creed II serious. He’s able to get away with the scene where Lundgren tries to intimidate Stallone in Stallone’s picturesque little Italian restaurant. And it’s a lot to get away with because the script doesn’t even pretend they can work an arc for Stallone and Lundgren. Creed II also ignores how Lundgren remorselessly killed Jordan’s dad thirty years ago. It acknowledges it, but ignores it. Lundgren tries in an impossible role. It isn’t a significant success, but it’s far from a failure and–like everyone else–Lundgren’s taking it seriously. It helps.

It also hurts because there are all the missed opportunities. If only the script took itself more seriously, there’d be so many possibilities. But Taylor and Stallone don’t have a good enough story to play it straight. Instead Caple and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau have to make it play. At one point Lundgren and Munteanu wordlessly survey the Philadelphia Museum of Art with their minds set on destroying Jordan. Because it’s a father and son thing against Stallone and Jordan. Only it’s not. Because Taylor and Stallone haven’t got the story for it. It’s kind of depressing.

Well, the more you think about it, the more depressing it gets. Stallone, as a writer, went cheap on the character for Stallone, the actor, to play. Creed II’s got its constraints and Caple gets the film by with them, but doesn’t play off them. It’s not like the film succeeds through ingenuity. It’s just Caple and the cast, the editors–who never make a bad move until the postscripts–composer Ludwig Göransson (basically remixing old Rocky music selections but to strong effect)–they all take it seriously enough and present it straight-faced enough, the film gets away with it.

It’s a not craven sequel, except when it’s got to be craven. Then it’s craven. But it’s passively craven. Creed II, despite narrative contrivances, is never actively craven. It’s a successful approach. The film’s engaging and entertaining throughout. Great star turn from Jordan, great but not enough of a star turn because she’s not in the movie though Thompson, good support from Stallone and Phylicia Rashad. And, of course, Wood Harris. Who gets a thankless part but goes all in. Lundgren and Munteanu are fine.

Shady fight promoter Russell Hornsby feels like a leftover plot thread from a previous draft. Snipping him for more on Thompson or Stallone would’ve only improved things.

There are some surprises along the way and sometimes the actors handle them well. Even if nothing slows the film from getting to the fight night finale. Not even obvious character development possibilities related to the fight night.

Creed II is a strong fine. With the script–and maybe budget–holding back on the film’s obvious, greater possibilities.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Caple Jr.; screenplay by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Cheo Hodari Coker and Sascha Penn and characters created by Ryan Coogler and Stallone; director of photography, Kramer Morgenthau; edited by Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, and Paul Harb; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, Kevin King Templeton, and Stallone; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago), Florian Munteanu (Viktor Drago), Russell Hornsby (Buddy Marcelle), and Wood Harris (Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton).


Cop Land (1997, James Mangold)

Cop Land either has a lot of story going on and not enough content or a lot of content going on and not enough story. Also you could do variations of those statements with “plot.” Writer and director Mangold toggles Cop Land between two plot lines. First is lead Sylvester Stallone. Second is this big police corruption and cover-up story with Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Robert Patrick, and Michael Rapaport. And some other guys. It’s the bigger story. Ray Liotta floats between, on his own thing. Almost everyone in Cop Land has their own story going and Mangold’s just checking in on it as background every once in a while. It creates this feeling of depth, even though there hasn’t actually been any plot development. The actors help.

But Mangold doesn’t have the same approach to narrative between the plot lines. Stallone’s in this character study, De Niro and Keitel are in this detached procedural. Stallone’s story could be a procedural, it would make sense for it to be a procedural–even De Niro tells him it ought to be a procedural–but Mangold keeps it a character study. All the way to the problematic ending.

Because as impressive as Mangold gets in Cop Land–and the film’s superbly acted, directed, written, photographed–but Mangold can’t bring it all together. He starts showing his inability to commingle his plot lines with Annabella Sciorra’s increased presence in the film. She’s good and she should have a good part. As teenagers, Stallone saved her, going partially deaf in the process. He could never become a cop (his dream) and Sciorra ends up marrying a shitbag cop (Peter Berg–who’s so good playing a shitbag) who’s terrible to her. Mangold’s plot presents him with some opportunity for Sciorra’s character to have a good arc, but he skips it. It’s a distraction and he wants to stay focused on something else.

That problematic finish? Lead Stallone becomes a distraction and Mangold wants to focus on something else. It’s a painful misstep too, with Mangold just coming off the third act action sequence–the only real action sequence in the film–and it’s awesome. So Mangold’s done drama, procedural, character study, action, and he’s perfectly segued between the different tones while simultaneously cohering them. Cop Land is building. Then all of a sudden Mangold loses the ability to segue. And to cohere. Maybe because Mangold reveal Liotta as his own major subplot somewhere near the end of second act (after doing everything he could to reduce Liotta from his first act presence). It’s a narrative pothole.

Though, given the film opens with De Niro narrating the ground situation, it’s impressive Mangold’s able to get the film through ninety plus minutes without the seams showing. The opening narration is compelling and the Howard Shore music for it is great, but it’s completely different from everything else in the picture.

Even when De Niro returns to the narration.

Maybe Mangold’s just bad at the summary storytelling though audio device. He also botches using newsradio commentary to move things along or set them up.

Cop Land is a little story in a big world. Mangold has got a great handle on the little story but not the big world. Though the Stallone arrives in New York City scene is kind of great. Stallone, Mangold, cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards, Shore. It just works. Because Stallone lumbers.

The film’s full of flashy performances. De Niro, Liotta, Berg, Patrick, Rapaport, they all get to be flashy. Dynamic. Mangold gives them great scenes and the actors deliver. All of them consistently except Berg. Berg’s too absent in the first act for all the subplots he gets to affect in the second.

But Keitel and Stallone are never flashy. Stallone because it’s his character. His character is anti-flash. His character is a drunken sheriff who goes around town in his flipflops opening parking meters for quarters to play pinball. Keitel it’s a combination of performance and part. Keitel only gets a couple moments to himself in the film and they’re real short. Mangold juxtaposes Stallone and Keitel in the story but not how he tells that story. It’s a weird thing to avoid, but Mangold avoids a lot.

For example, Mangold strongly implies no one in this town of cops (and cops’ wives, and cops’ children) respects the local law enforcement. It gives Stallone this Will Kane moment, but Mangold’s never established how it’s possible. How the town could truly function. And then Cop Land has all this toxic masculinity, racism, and complicity swirling around the plot and Mangold keeps eyes fixed forward. When a subplot or character starts going too much in those directions… bye bye subplot, bye bye character. Even though Mangold makes sure to write a good scene or get a great performance out of it.

Mangold fumbles Cop Land’s finish. He doesn’t know how to scale the narrative distance. Even if he did, there are some other significant pitfalls. But it’s almost great. Cop Land is almost great.

The acting is all good. De Niro is able to handle the Pacino-esque ranges in volume. Stallone self-effaces well. Maybe too much since Keitel’s a tad detached. Liotta takes an overly complicated role with too little development and gets some great material.

Much of Howard Shore’s score is excellent. When it’s not excellent, even when it’s predictable, it’s competent. Excellent photography from Edwards. Lester Cohen’s production design is good, even better than Mangold’s shots of it.

Cop Land comes real close; real, real close.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), and Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro).


Oscar (1991, John Landis)

Excluding prologue and epilogue, Oscar has a present action of roughly four hours. The movie runs just shy of two hours. A lot happens with a lot of characters. And, while the film’s based on a play–which explains the limited setting–and even though it’s not like director Landis does anything spectacular except keep the trains running, it never feels stagy. Sometimes Landis’s composition is a little strange, but it’s never stagy. Oscar is always in motion. It never gets to take a break.

The story is extremely, intentionally convoluted. Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who’s going straight at noon; it’s a big day and he’s going to get a suit. We know he’s going to get a suit because the movie opens with flunky Peter Riegert reading off the morning schedule. It’s quickly executed, but it’s a good forecast. Even though Oscar never really looks good, Landis packages it fairly well. Bill Kenney’s production design is one of the big stars. Stallone’s got a mansion, people coming and going, the cops watching from across the street.

Oscar’s also a period piece, set in the early thirties, which presents some performance problems. Can’t forget to talk about those.

So Stallone’s got a big day and his accountant, a likable but somewhat thin Vincent Spano, shows up and throws a wrench in it. Turns out Spano is carrying on with Stallone’s daughter–Marisa Tomei in a great role. Except maybe it ends up Tomei likes Stallone’s elocution coach, Tim Curry. Curry and Tomei flirting ought to be weird, but it actually works out gloriously. There’s an adorable quality to Oscar, maybe because it’s a thirties gangster picture without any violence. Just positive vibes. Stallone is trying to go straight, after all.

There’s a whole lot more. The film isn’t real time but is consecutive enough characters’ presences define sections–like when Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero show up as Stallone’s goofy Italian tailors. And Curry isn’t in the picture near the start, more like halfway, yet Landis and screenwriters Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland make it feel like Oscar can’t get on without him. Same with how Chazz Palminteri’s part grows. Initially, Riegert has a lot more to do, but eventually Palminteri ends up as the audience’s stand-in. He’s been watching the events unfold and the convolutions are driving him nuts.

It’s a great performance from Palminteri. There are a lot of great performances. Riegert, Tomei, Curry, Ferrero. And a lot of solid ones–Ornella Muti (who has way too little to do), Shearer, Joycelyn O’Brien, Elizabeth Barondes. Oscar is cast pretty well and Landis seems to know what do with the actors. At least those in orbit around Stallone.

The ones not in orbit? Like Kurtwood Smith’s doofus police lieutenant, the bankers hesitant to partner with Stallone–including William Atherton and Mark Metcalf, or rival gangster Richard Romanus–well, Landis has no idea. He goes for broad “hokey” comedy and it doesn’t work. Especially not with Eddie Bracken’s stuttering informant. What should be a nice cameo from Bracken is instead cringeworthy.

And how does Stallone do playing the relative straight man to all the lunacy? He does all right. He lets the better performances overshadow his own, which is great. He gets some funny stuff, but he never gets to goof. The goofing in Oscar is great; Ferrero and Shearer, Reigert and Palminteri–some finely executed comedy. Stallone’s good with Muti, good with Tomei, good with Barondes. And he’s good in the scenes with Spano.

Except Spano’s pretty thin. Landis shoots these over-the-shoulder shots down onto Stallone (Spano’s about four inches taller) and it seems like there should be something to it and there’s not. Here’s Spano trying to intellectually strong-arm Stallone for almost two hours, while never getting too unlikable, and Landis hasn’t got any ideas on how to visually jazz it up. It doesn’t do Spano any favors.

Nice score from Elmer Bernstein; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s nice. Mac Ahlberg’s photography is a yawn, though it’s not like Landis tasked him with anything ambitious or difficult. That mansion set is phenomenal. Great costumes too.

Oscar is a little quirky and the third act stumbles in large part thanks to Smith’s performance and Landis’s handling of the finale, but it’s a fine comedy with some excellent performances and sequences throughout.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, based on the play by Claude Magnier; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Leslie Belzberg; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Snaps Provolone), Ornella Muti (Sofia Provolone), Marisa Tomei (Lisa Provolone), Vincent Spano (Anthony Rossano, C.P.A.), Tim Curry (Dr. Poole), Peter Riegert (Aldo), Chazz Palminteri (Connie), Elizabeth Barondes (Theresa), Joycelyn O’Brien (Nora), Martin Ferrero (Luigi Finucci), Harry Shearer (Guido Finucci), William Atherton (Overton), Mark Metcalf (Milhous), Ken Howard (Kirkwood), Sam Chew Jr. (Van Leland), Don Ameche (Father Clemente), Kurtwood Smith (Lieutenant Toomey), Richard Romanus (Vendetti), Robert Lesser (Officer Keough), Art LaFleur (Officer Quinn), Linda Gray (Roxanne), Yvonne De Carlo (Aunt Rosa), and Eddie Bracken (Five Spot Charlie).


Over the Top (1987, Menahem Golan)

Is Over the Top terrible? Yes. It’s a terrible film. Is it an interesting terrible film? No. I mean, maybe if you wanted to examine Giorgio Moroder’s inept eighties synthesizer score or David Gurfinkel’s weird photography, you might be able to find some kernels of interest. But it wouldn’t be particularly rewarding.

At best, the most interesting thing about Over the Top is how detached Sylvester Stallone–reductively speaking, the plot is Rocky with arm wrestling, dead moms, deadbeat dads, truck driving–but Stallone’s completely detached from any of the machismo. It’s very, very strange, because it’s all about him wanting his son to man up. He’s been raised by his strangely manipulative but terminally ill mother (Susan Blakely in the epitome of a thankless performance) and his awful rich guy grandfather Robert Loggia. David Mendenhall’s the son. He’s real bad. Stirling Silliphant and Stallone write Mendenhall’s dialogue like he’s Marcie on “Charlie Brown.” It’s really weird. Weird in a bad, not interesting sort of way.

Then there’s Golan’s direction. It’s Panavision. It’s terrible. The editing is really bad too. James R. Symons and Don Zimmerman have to cut multiple eighties Stallone movies montages and they flop on all of them. Except maybe the final match, which is strangely effective. Maybe because Rick Zumwalt’s villain is really unlikable, but who knows. Maybe Over the Top just wears one down after ninety minutes. It bottoms out real early. There’s no disappointment to be had.

It’s not like even Loggia is any good. Maybe it’s interesting as a low point in Silliphant’s career.

No, it’s not. Maybe the production history is amusing, like Stallone really hated Mendenhall–they’re terrible together but it’s actually more Stallone’s fault. Both as the actor and one of the screenwriters.

Anyway. I think three hundred words on Over the Top is more than enough.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Menahem Golan; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Gary Conway and David Engelbach; director of photography, David Gurfinkel; edited by James R. Symons and Don Zimmerman; music by Giorgio Moroder; production designer, James L. Schoppe; produced by Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Lincoln Hawk), David Mendenhall (Michael Cutler), Susan Blakely (Christina Hawk), Robert Loggia (Jason Cutler) and Rick Zumwalt (Bob ‘Bull’ Hurley).


Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark)

With the exception of Dolly Parton, everyone involved with Rhinestone seems nervous. Well, maybe not Richard Farnsworth. He seems impatient, like he can’t wait for his scene to be over. Top-billed Sylvester Stallone spends the first half of the film trying too hard, seems to relax, then finishes the film not trying hard enough. It’s like Stallone resents the stupid stuff he’s got to do but then he’s no good at the serious stuff either. Sure, he’s got terrible dialogue, which he wrote for himself (along with whatever remains of Phil Alden Robinson’s original script), but he’s still not acting well. He’s acting poorly.

When does he act well? During the ten or fifteen minutes when he’s a greased up romantic lead in some weirdly racy, somewhat wholesome perfume commercial with Parton. The film looks different too, like director Clark and cinematographer Timothy Galfas were just pretending to be wholly incompetent and they were really just pacing out this eventual payoff. Sadly, editors Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler don’t improve during this section of the film. They’re bad throughout.

While Parton isn’t good–it’s not possible to be good in Rhinestone–she’s earnest and she’s capable. She takes her job seriously, which is probably why her original songs for the film are good. Rhinestone should, frighteningly, be better. Even with Stallone, it should be better. The movie isn’t Rocky with country music, it’s Stallone doing a “Barbarino” impression with country music. If it were Rocky with country music, it’d be a lot better.

The problem is the tone. Clark wants to take it seriously. He wants to take Stallone as a country western star who dresses in an incredibly lame silver sequined cowboy outfit. Sylvester Stallone as a successful country western star is not possible. It’s just not. More idiotically, the film itself doesn’t take that idea seriously.

There’s one music number I resent myself for liking and Tim Thomerson’s amusing, though not good (he’s nervous but trying to get past it). Parton’s got a lot of presence and she and Stallone actually have what appears to be chemistry, if a lot more platonic than the narrative requires, but it’s not like she makes it worthwhile. She just doesn’t embarrass herself. Everyone else embarrasses themselves at some point or another.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Robinson; director of photography, Timothy Galfas; edited by Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler; music by Dolly Parton and Mike Post; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Howard Smith and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dolly Parton (Jake), Sylvester Stallone (Nick), Tim Thomerson (Barnett Kale), Richard Farnsworth (Mr. Farris), Steve Peck (Mr. Martinelli), Penny Santon (Mrs. Martinelli) and Ron Leibman (Freddie Ugo).


Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Creed is something special. It’s an entirely sincere, entirely reverential sequel to the Rocky movies, but one trying to do something different with the “franchise.” Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, while extremely important in the film, isn’t the protagonist. He’s not even lead Michael B. Jordan’s sidekick. He’s a cute old man who doesn’t understand cloud computing. Director Coogler, along with co-screenwriter Aaron Covington, occasionally stumble fitting Stallone into the movie. For a while, it seems like his presence is a condition of the franchise license, as Coogler carefully transitions the viewer away from the idea of Stallone as the hero. Jordan doesn’t start the film–the film starts in flashback–so when the handover is complete isn’t just when Creed stops playing at being a Rocky movie, but also when Jordan fully takes on the picture.

Coogler and Covington’s script is deliberate and careful in how it brings the viewer into the world of film (the approach owes a lot to how Stallone’s own Rocky Balboa handled viewer familiarity with the characters). Even though it’s a boxing movie, with some fantastic fight sequences thanks to Coogler and his cinematographer, Maryse Alberti–though without much input from the editors, as Coogler likes to show off how close he and Alberti can get to the bout without cutting, Creed more often relies on Jordan as an intentionally tragic character, juxtaposing him against Stallone’s own intentional tragedies. That concept, the personal, conscious responsibility for misery, isn’t Creed’s point. It’s just an observation from Coogler and his actors. (One has to imagine both Stallone and Jordan loved getting to essay these roles).

Because Creed is, deep down, a rootin‘, tootin’ crowd pleaser. It’s just an exceptionally well-made one and an exceptionally thoughtful one. Coogler’s ambitions for the film are to tell its entirely absurd story well. And Coogler’s not afraid to take shortcuts. He casts Phylicia Rashad as Jordan’s foster mother (he’s her husband’s illegitimate son) and there’s no one possibly better for the role. Rashad brings a gravitas to her (too few) scenes and is always present in the film, even when she’s off-screen (too much of the time). Because Coogler knows how his audience is going to respond to her general presence, not just her performance.

Also very important is Tessa Thompson as Jordan’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough to do, though Coogler and Covington give her a lot of ground situation, but the romance gives she and Jordan some great scenes. Thompson does really well.

And Jordan’s great. He’s got a great role, even if the film isn’t about chronicling the character’s internal struggles. Or even representing them on an epical external scale.

Because Creed isn’t meant to be high art. It’s meant to be high entertainment, just from someone better suited for high art. Coogler, Jordan and Stallone do something really cool. They figure out how to make soullessly commercial nostalgia entertainment entirely, undeniably sincere.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington, based on a story by Coogler and characters created by Sylvester Stallone; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler, Kevin King Templeton and Stallone; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Tony Bellew (‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan), Ritchie Coster (Pete Sporino), Graham McTavish (Tommy Holiday) and Wood Harris (Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton).


Escape Plan (2013, Mikael Håfström)

Given how much fun the actors have in Escape Plan, there are a couple big unfortunates. First is director Håfström; he isn’t able to direct the actors through the poorly scripted parts and he also can’t direct the one-liners. Plan is the first time Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have ever done a buddy picture together. For a ten minute stretch, it’s like there’s nothing but one-liners.

The second problem is the script. It flounders when setting up Stallone’s character. He works with Curtis Jackson, Amy Ryan and Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio has a lot of fun in a tiny part–these three characters only show up for maybe five or six minutes of runtime–but he completely overshadows Ryan and Jackson. They’re just doing the script, D’Onofrio turns the weak script into loads of entertainment.

Another person having fun in an underwritten role is Jim Caviezel as the warden. The film concerns Stallone (as a prison break specialist) and Schwarzenegger (as a lackey for a Julian Assange type) breaking out of a prison. Caviezel turns the part into a whirlwind of overcompensation, meanness and pure fun. He’s like Willy Wonka at times.

Of the two leads, Schwarzenegger’s better. He didn’t suffer through the lame setup with Ryan and Jackson.

Faran Tahir is really good as another inmate.

Plan is really entertaining for the bulk of it, just not the beginning or the end. It needed a better script doctor.

It also needed better music. Alex Heffes’s score’s atrocious.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mikael Håfström; screenplay by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, based on a story by Chapman; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Elliot Greenberg; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Robbie Brenner, Mark Canton, Randall Emmett, George Furla and Kevin King Templeton; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Breslin), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Rottmayer), Jim Caviezel (Hobbes), Faran Tahir (Javed), Sam Neill (Dr. Kyrie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Lester Clark), Vinnie Jones (Drake), Matt Gerald (Roag), Curtis Jackson (Hush), Caitriona Balfe (Jessica Miller), Christian Stokes (Babcock), Graham Beckel (Brims) and Amy Ryan (Abigail).


Bullet to the Head (2013, Walter Hill)

Bullet to the Head feels a little like an eighties buddy action movie. Between Sylvester Stallone in the lead and Walter Hill directing, it should feel more like one. But Stallone plays this one mature. He might not be playing his actual age (probably sixty-five at the time of filming), but he’s definitely supposed to be older. The film has Stallone narrating like it’s a noir–it’s not–and nicely uses pictures of him at younger ages as various mug shots.

Sarah Shahi plays his adult daughter, so there’s that maturity again. The relationship between Stallone and Shahi, mostly one or two of their scenes, is Bullet at its most sublime.

Where the film goes off the rails is Hill. The direction feels like generic modern action. Sure, the New Orleans locations give the picture some personality, but not enough to compensate for the lack of directorial presence.

While it resembles the buddy action movie genre, Bullet doesn’t actually belong. Stallone’s a hit man, his sidekick’s a moronic cop (played by Sung Kang). Kang’s bland but not unlikable; Stallone’s so mean it earns Kang sympathy. Stallone’s more likable because Kang’s an idiot.

And then there’s the jokes. The best writing in Bullet are Stallone’s Asian jokes. The one liners are leagues more inventive than anything else in the film.

As far as the supporting performances… Jason Momoa and Jon Seda stand out. Shahi’s undercooked.

Bullet’s fast, loud and not terrible. It could be better, but doesn’t need to be.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; screenplay by Alessandro Camon, based on the comic book by Matz and Colin Wilson; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by Steve Mazzaro; production designer, Toby Corbett; produced by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Alexandra Milchan and Kevin King Templeton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (James Bonomo), Sung Kang (Taylor Kwon), Sarah Shahi (Lisa Bonomo), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Robert Nkomo Morel), Jason Momoa (Keegan), Jon Seda (Louis Blanchard), Holt McCallany (Hank Greely), Dane Rhodes (Lt. Lebreton), Marcus Lyle Brown (Detective Towne), Brian Van Holt (Ronnie Earl) and Christian Slater (Marcus Baptiste).


The Specialist (1994, Luis Llosa)

Technically speaking, the best thing about The Specialist is probably John Barry’s score. Except he ripped off his James Bond scores and threw in some of his Body Heat music. Neither mood fits The Specialist, which isn’t glamorous enough to be Bond and isn’t sexy. I would have liked to say “isn’t sexy enough to be Body Heat” but The Specialist just plain isn’t sexy.

It’s supposed to be sexy, given how much emphasis director Llosa puts on stars Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in various stages of undress (not to mention the two carry on some painful phone flirting), but it isn’t. While Llosa’s direction is lame and both Stallone and Stone are bad (Stone’s worse), Llosa simply doesn’t realize the picture right.

It might be sexy if it were about a broken-down ex-CIA assassin and a damaged woman who’s prostituting herself to avenge her dead parents (long story). But The Specialist treats Stallone and Stone as megastars, not people. The scenes where James Woods–in a great performance as the bad guy–berates her and Stone actually gets to show emotion, those scenes almost work. They suggest a film worthy of a good John Barry knock-off score.

Eric Roberts costars as her target and he’s nearly good. Alexandra Seros’s script is too laughable for anyone (save Woods, who mixes insanity and mocking contempt) to actually be good.

As for Rod Steiger’s Cuban gangster? He’d be funny if he weren’t such offensively bad.

The Specialist‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Luis Llosa; screenplay by Alexandra Seros, suggested by novels by John Shirley; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by John Barry; production designer, Walter P. Martishius; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Ray Quick), Sharon Stone (May Munro), James Woods (Ned Trent), Rod Steiger (Joe Leon) and Eric Roberts (Tomas Leon).


Scroll to Top