Stone Cold, 1991.
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Starring Brian Bosworth, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, Richard Gant and Lance Henriksen.
Joe Huff, a suspended, tough guy cop, is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Brotherhood, a white supremacist biker gang planning revenge after one of their crew is sentenced to life in prison, and adopts the alias John Stone to go undercover and stop them…
It’s hard to take Stone Cold at any point seriously, and you have to wonder how anyone at the time tried to either – 1991 comparatively wasn’t that long ago. There are times when you sense Craig R. Baxley’s pulp action thriller understands how silly it is, and times it occasionally gets lost in its own machismo. If you can imagine an ultra-violent, bigger budget episode of Sons of Anarchy, with the melodrama and cheesy hysteria dialled up to eleven, that’s pretty much Baxley’s film in a nutshell. It was a starring feature for Brian Bosworth, a former NFL linebacker and one of the highest paid football players in history, who like plenty of sportsmen before him attempted to translate his toned bulk into a cool, recalcitrant on-screen action man persona – here as Joe Huff aka John Stone, a hard-living cop on suspension corralled by the FBI into going undercover within a white supremacist organisation of organised criminals. All fine, all set up for Bosworth to take names, kick ass etc… and while he does have a certain appealing, nonchalant badass cool, he lacks the same leading man charisma that gave Arnie, Bruce or Sly their careers. Plus, let’s not even talk about that mullet!
The whole thing feels like a throwback to the 80’s and despite being early 90’s is unashamedly indebted to the previous decade; consequently it has a certain underground B-movie charm and uber-violent style to the action which makes it enjoyable in a very cheesy, tongue in cheek way. Bosworth can’t act but it almost doesn’t matter – long as Stone can crack some heads, take no crap from anyone and occasionally show a level of emotive response, he’s a classic stock reluctant almost anti-hero; he strides through the film barely giving a sh*t about anything he does, and you never doubt for one moment he will end up beating white supremacist criminal Chains Cooper (played with gleeful bad guy relish by the great Lance Henriksen). Honestly though, the Nazi leanings are much more background to both the biker culture Baxley enjoys exploring, and the pulp, Death Wish-style nature of the ‘Brotherhood’ and their criminal racket whereby they target government officials. Had the script peeked a little more into the dark corner of racial purity, it might have added an extra level of depth Stone Cold lacks, determined as it is to put hard boiled dialogue and casual, over the top violence as a priority.
In the end that’s fine, as there’s enough moments of Bosworth beating up brawny guys to hard rock tunes to pass the time, while the story ticks away underneath. Huff has absolutely no dimension beyond the first but Baxley doesn’t particularly care – we’re supposed to enjoy his undercover actions, enjoy William Forsythe’s slimy turn as a suspicious gang member (filling that classic role of the consigliere who can see right through the new guy, when his boss can’t), and enjoy the bloody, almost comic-book violence inherent in the plot. Credit where credit’s due because Baxley really lets rip on this for the barnstorming climax whereby he unleashes a barrage of quite nasty violence as the Brotherhood effectively stage a war against the District Attorney – it’s loud, bloody, maniacal and very enjoyable stuff, giving Bosworth the chance to play the hero and Henriksen to go off the chain (pun intended) as the bad guy. Its unusual and pleasing to find the final fifteen minutes are probably the best part of the movie – though the opening, comically played introduction to Huff in a grocery store runs it close, a scene that surely was lampooned wholesale in 1993’s underrated National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1. Bosworth and his antics are perfect fodder for sending up, but fondly rather than cruelly.
Few would recognise Stone Cold as either a great movie or indeed necessarily a great action movie, but without doubt Craig R. Baxley’s bloody slice of action pulp makes for entertaining and at times exciting viewing. The script is hokey, the story predictable, the violence bordering on tasteless, and it has enough cliches to last a lifetime, but when it has fun with itself and doesn’t slip too heavily into trying to be a serious action film, it’s damn good fun. You almost wish Brian Bosworth had taken off as a lunk headed action star, and one suspects he arrived just a few years too late to capitalise on an era when people liked their action loud, silly, fun and utterly without any semblance of character or dramatic depth. If you like your action all of those ways, there’s plenty in Stone Cold‘s hard boiled, hokey early 90’s delivery to keep you happy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.