Tom Jolliffe presents a selection of the action genre's greatest douchebags...
Cinema has created many wonderful characters over the years. We’ve had classic heroes, and the most heinous of villains. Heroes and villains are particularly paramount in the action genre. There’s also another type of character: The Douchebag. These would be the whiny, sniveling, low down, dirty weasels who at some point try to screw over the hero but normally come unstuck. Often they’re not the main villain because they’re too slimy and weasily, without enough determination to get done what a full-on evil-doer will.
Here is a list of classic action movie douchebags, in no particular order...
The Die Hard Douchebags
Die Hard remains one of the best action films ever. It’s a template by which many subsequent films have molded themselves on, but without ever matching the quality of this benchmark. Die Hard has one of the best action heroes ever, and also one of the best villains, henchmen, incompetent police chiefs, and partners that the hero doesn’t meet till the end ever! Die Hard also has not one, but two of the best douchebags ever committed to film.
Firstly there’s Ellis (Hart Brochner) a sleazy yuppy who represents everything that was wrong about the 80s business yuppy. He’s got the classic shit-eating grin and slimy demeanor. Ellis is a brilliant character, so self satisfied that he’d marry himself if it were legal. Ellis also comes unstuck in brilliant fashion when his ego runs wild and he thinks he can outwit Alan Rickman and his strange German/English accent.
Then we have Richard Thornburg. Like most reporters in movies, he’s a douche, but William Atherton is one of cinema’s greatest ever douches. He’s Walter Peck from Ghostbusters and Thornburg in Die Hard. That’s by far the most douche-tastic legacy anyone in cinema could hope for! Thornburg would sell his granny for a good scoop on a story, and by the time he gets his teeth knocked out by Holly McClane, it’s a truly satisfying moment of comeuppance.
Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) - Aliens
It’s all about the money for Burke. Money and a legacy. Reiser’s portrayal of the two-faced and aptly named Burke is superb. If you’ve ever seen Reiser in Mad About You, there’s something very smarmy about him anyway. He’s also a stand up comic and there’s a certain amount of genius to casting him in a film like Aliens. From the beginning the audience is completely uneasy about him, because you can see the plotting going on behind the mechanical grin. Ripley is the sharp as a Kitana heroine and of course she senses something from the off too.
Simon “The Spy” (Bill Paxton) - True Lies
Possibly my favourite; a truly insipid character, brilliantly portrayed by Bill Paxton, who has a solid douchebag legacy (see Weird Science and Near Dark). Simon pretends to be a spy in order to get laid. There’s something quite brilliant about how elaborately he goes about trying to score some chicks. The reality is he’s a second hand car salesmen with some fantastically misogynistic views. Some of his lines are brilliant and demented. “She could suck-start a leaf-blower!” and “ass like a 10 year old boy!” are two wonderful and creepily odd ways he describes Jamie Lee Curtis. The film may delve into the ridiculous in the sub-plot that revolves around Paxton, but it is great entertainment, and Paxton sells it superbly.
Sully (David Patrick Kelly) - Commando
Sully is your classic weasel. He’s stuck in a movie where everyone else is a foot taller than him, including Arnie’s ten year old daughter! He counteracts this by slithering about his business like a snake. Sully makes a classic douchebag faux-pas when he grabs the purse off the leading lady to steal quarters from her for the phone. Never go into a ladies purse… without permission! Schoolboy error! As such Sully’s timely dispatching is well warranted and duly memorable.
Murdock (Charles Napier) - Rambo: First Blood Part II
Murdock sends Rambo out to search for American POWs, not expecting to find any. It’s a phoney mission to keep the bureaucrats satisfied. When Rambo does find some - because lets face it, Rambo could find a piece of hay in a giant stack of needles - Murdock aborts the mission leaving Rambo and the American prisoners left for dead in ‘Nam. Murdock might claim he’s following orders, but he’s only really after number one and the guy doesn’t even offer Rambo an ice cold can of coke when they first meet! What an asshole!
Requin (Brion James) - Tango & Cash
My curveball suggestion. Brion James was a solid character actor and a reliable henchman in movies like this. He’s played all types and can passably portray heinous villains from many different nations. Here, much of his douchiness is down to the fact he’s doing a really bad cockney accent. “You waaaannggg-caaarrrrs!” Plus the pony-tail - that’s always a classic douche accessory.
The Last Boy Scout Trifecta!
This might be the douchiest film ever made. Even Bruce Willis is playing a bit of an unapologetic douche / bum. There’s a douchebag around every turn in this. Most notable are Shelly Marcone (Noble Willingham), the corrupt NFL chairman who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants (money of course); Milo (Taylor Negron), with ridiculous hair, raging camp, and the annoying habit of calling everyone by the full name (“Hello Joseph”); and then there’s the ridiculously obnoxious Chet (Kim Coates) who toys with Willis’ character once too often to his detriment. All get splendid comeuppance. The film also has the bad guy who likes using impressively long words (“It’s the guy that invented scrabble!”) and also a greasy, dirty Senator (Chelcie Ross).
Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) - Heat
This guy is seriously slimy and oozing in ego. He thinks he can screw over Robert De Niro, but of course, he can’t. He’s not alone in the douche ranks within Heat - there’s also Waingro (Kevin Gage) and Alan Marciano (Hank Azaria).
Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) - RoboCop
Your classic money-grabbing company head. He’s called Dick, so right off the bat you know he’s going to be an asshole. Quite brilliantly he gets fired, then killed, in the space of three seconds. Not even Alan Sugar could pull that one off, but RoboCop can!
Benny (Mel Johnson, Jr.) - Total Recall
“I’ve got five kids to feed.” A classic case of someone who aids the hero, only to turn on him later in the film. That’s some standard douche behaviour. However Benny’s turning is extra special as he ends up on the payroll of the guy responsible for the possible creation and destruction of his own mutant-kind. Thankfully, as many a douche has discovered, if you wrong Arnie, you get punished in style.
Other notables: Belloq (Paul Freeman) in Raiders of The Lost Ark, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) in The Matrix, The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) in Batman Begins... There are plenty more out there, so fire away with further suggestions folks!