Anghus Houvouras on the death of the action film…
It saddens me that the action film has taken such a beating. They were such a huge part of my early movie going experiences. During the formative years my cinematic diet consisted of obscenely overproduced science fiction like Tron, Dune, Flash Gordon and R-rated action films featuring an unkillable one man army. While we still get the occasional garish sci-fi epic (John Carter, anyone?), the action film has been issued a death certificate. 2013 has given us nearly a half dozen examples of audiences abandoning the genre and proving that it’s not exactly putting asses in seats anymore.
You had to figure Bruce Willis could end the trend and stave off these diminishing returns. If any of the aging action icons still constitute a box office commodity, it’s Willis. And while the fifth Die Hard film opened well, it has quickly plummeted from the charts and is tracking for an underwhelming performance from a mainstay of action films. In this case, A Good Day to Die Hard is pretty damn awful. Most are chalking it up to an aging icon in a diminishing franchise failing to attract an audience.
Perhaps you could blame the fact that these are senior citizens taking up arms. Aging icons who have seen better days. But the action atrophy doesn’t just apply to the old guys. The middle-aged guys aren’t faring too well either. Jason Statham’s latest Parker tanked hard. And now “The Artist formerly known as the Rock” aka Dwayne Johnson stars in Snitch, another nail in the action film coffin.
Snitch is a heavy handed movie that tries way too hard to be a message movie. Action films should never try and deliver a message. Unless that message is “justice is administered one punch to the throat at a time.” The Rock plays John Matthews, a construction manager whose estranged son is arrested for dealing drugs. John feels responsible, not having been there for his son. So he does what every concerned parent does: he sets up a shady deal with a US Attorney to become an informant to help reduce his son’s sentence. I’m a fan of the crazy plot. We need a few more films that live on the premise of “it’s so crazy, it might work.” Dwayne Johnson is a likable guy, and a great screen presence. He’s exactly the kind of action icon the genre needs. However, his penchant for projects could use some refinement. Snitch struggles to achieve mediocrity.
The only old school action films that have gotten any traction have been the two Expendables movies. Films that play heavily on the fact that they contain every single action star in the history of cinema. These are kitchen sink style films that throw so many recognizable icons into the mix that they can’t help but succeed. If the only way to attract an audience to theaters for an action film is by putting every single action star in one movie, then what hope does the genre have going forward?
Maybe the action film has taken a beating because the formula hasn’t changed. As much as I love the old guys like Stallone, the act hasn’t changed much since he first started shooting first and never asking questions. And there’s way too much emphasis on the fact that these guys are getting crazy old and are still trying to pull off the same shtick. I saw a poster for Bullet to the Head that read “Revenge never gets old.” Look, I know these guys are old. Drawing attention to it is doing little to help improve their credibility. I’m painfully aware that in real life these guys are more likely to throw a hip than throw a good punch. I think it’s time for the old timers to call it a day. And I think it’s time for the new guys to go back to the drawing board. I don’t exactly know what will save the action film, but I know that it’s bullet ridden corpse is gasping for breath and in desperate need to life support.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the graphic novel EXE: Executable File, is available from Lulu.com.