Comfortable and Furious

A Sly Appreciation: Part 3

“I’m tired of this ‘Demolition Man’ shit. Demolition Man (1993)

Sigh. Time for two hours of Sandra bloody Bullock and one of those 1000-watt Wesley Snipes performances. This is gonna be tough.

It’s the future and LAPD cop Stallone has been frozen in the state’s Cryo-Penitentiary for inadvertently killing thirty or so hostages during one of his typically gung-ho police operations. Yeah, well, I guess we all have bad days at work. The chortling, bleached blonde criminal responsible, Simon Phoenix (Snipes), is frozen alongside. He’s thawed for a parole hearing in 2032, busts free, blah blah and only Sly can stop him because California (in a mere generation and despite suffering a cataclysmic earthquake in 2010) is now a politically correct, crime-free utopia. How it arrived at such a state in such a short time is anybody’s guess. In fact, it’s become so pussyfied that its law enforcement officers are incapable of sarcasm, let alone shooting an unarmed racial minority.

Demolition is a sci-fi action flick, but acted and directed so broadly that it’s best treated as a comedy for adolescent retards. Alternatively tongue in cheek, clumsy, nonsensical, lightly satirical, cartoonish and cheesy, there are also in-jokes, product placement and holes galore. Christ, there’s a lot to gripe about. For a start, villains should not be named Simon. And if there’s no crime in this paradise, why are there so many cops? And what is a Sandra Bullock? Why is she on my screen? And Stallone can’t do comedy. And… Oh, I can’t be bothered. I appreciate this one should be treated as a big, dumb pile of fun, but after forty-five minutes its grating vision of the future has nowhere to go, except for yet another OTT confrontation between the main pair. I’m off to watch Sleeper instead.

“Please. Cut the bullshit.” The Specialist (1994)

Loathed by the critics, the fun in watching the Miami-set The Specialist comes from trying to work out who puts in the worst performance. Take your pick from Sharon Stone stuck in another post-Instinct role that already feels like parody or Rod Steiger doing some sort of Hispanic Don Corleone impersonation. Then there’s the combined might of pantomime villains Eric Roberts and James Woods both trying so hard to convince as evil clowns that they might as well have hellfire flames shooting from the tops of their heads.

Stallone is an ex-CIA explosives expert turned hi-tech, freelance hitman. He advertises on the internet for work and bizarrely likes to wander around in public near his targets before killing them with specialized bombs. His convoluted methods make no sense and are ripe with potential error. In fact, they’re crap, his inability to remain incognito typified by trailing Stone while listening to a minidisc of her voice, pointlessly kicking an unconnected hoodlum through a bus window and getting into a grubby confrontation with his latest mark, the crime boss Roberts. And what the hell’s wrong with shooting such a baddie up close or via a sniper’s rifle? Ah, excuse me, Stone has just revealed why: “Bullets are so imprecise.” Huh? Given the prologue has already shown that bombs often result in unintended victims, why would Sly continue to ignore the efficiency of firearms?

As you can tell, the plot is so contrived it basically spends two hours chewing on its own guts. Stone hires Sly to kill Roberts and his Mafiosi cronies for wiping out her parents when she was a child, but we’re never even told why the killings were necessary in the first place. It just gets murkier from there, leaving the viewer with little option but to smirk at the rampant macho posturing and go wee! at all the explosions.

A gravelly voiced, cigar-smoking Stallone looks bored throughout, apparently taking no joy or satisfaction from his work. Neither does he say much, obviously going for a mean, moody persona. At least his pet cat gives him some respite from the dog of a script. Stone is stranded for more than an hour with nothing to do but twirl her hair and look sultry. Oh, and get slapped. Of course, this underwhelming pair hooks up during an encounter in the shower in which Stone unveils her tits, Sly bares his butt and sogginess abounds.

The Specialist is trash from start to finish, enlivened by corny dialogue, daft performances and a general air of absurdity. I doubt Sly was too bothered, though, as it somehow turned into one of his biggest hits in the nineties.

“The law never apologizes!” Judge Dredd (1995)

I’ve got nothing against rightwing, gun-promoting fantasies (such as Dirty Harry, Death Wish and First Blood Part II) as long as they’re enjoyable, but it does help to have a quality writer spewing out the pro-law and order, quasi-fascist stuff. Alas, John Milius didn’t write the 2139-set Dredd and we instead end up with one of Sly’s worst-regarded flicks.

Here he slaps on a codpiece, platform boots and some plastic shoulder pads, looking like a glum Gary Glitter unsure if he’s off to give a concert or play American football. Dredd, tasked with keeping the increasingly violent streets safe in Mega-City One, is ‘police, jury and executioner all in one’. This is fine when you’ve got the power, but what happens if there’s a super-villain out to frame you?

In many ways Dredd apes Demolition Man in that it takes place in the future, there are guns and explosions galore, there’s a fair bit of comedy, and the take-no-shit hero has to battle a wise-cracking psycho. However, whereas Demolition was annoying shite, I don’t mind Dredd. In fact, I quite like some of the Blade Runner-inspired sets, makeup and special effects, especially a hulking, red-eyed combat robot brought back to destructive life and a band of cannibalistic mutant outlaws living outside the massive city.

Unfortunately, a deeply irritating Rob Schneider scuttles this flick’s dark potential by trying to provide comic relief, although at least a hammy Armand Assante as our main baddie is nowhere near as grating as Wesley Snipes. There are also other pleasures, such as a quite good homosexual rape joke, the fate of Dredd’s Trautman-like father-figure and a catfight, not to mention Dredd with a great big downturned mouth during his trial looking like he’s shit his pants and unsure whether to soldier on or burst into tears.

Best of all is Dredd issuing verbal commands to his gun (‘rapid fire… armor piercing… double whammy’) to change its capabilities. I don’t think I’ve previously seen such a quirk in a movie, its emergence bolstering my suspicion that many a gun nut has a queasy personal relationship with his weaponry. Shame Dredd is only R-rated otherwise we could have been treated to the sight of our ultra-macho hero chatting to his pride and joy in one hand and his cock in the other.

“You can’t kill me!” Daylight (1996)

The disaster movie, apparently dead after 1980’s hokey volcano flop When Time Ran Out, roared back into life in the mid-nineties with overblown shit like Independence Day and the repetitive Twister. Sly ignored humanity-hating aliens and natural phenomena, preferring to focus his save-the-day heroics on a man-made calamity in the form of a New York tunnel collapse.

And fair play, the initial accident and resulting fireball involving trucks full of toxic waste is well done. However, the weakly titled Daylight starts to fade after half an hour with its unappealing actors, unrealistic dialogue and weak characterization. It has what I call The Jaws 2 Problem in that I wanted most of those in the line of fire to die.

Stallone is a former big shot medical chief turned taxi driver after a fuckup involving a building collapse that killed a handful of people. Hmm, the last time I saw him play a cabbie was the grotesque Rhinestone. That can’t be a good omen. Anyhow, he takes charge of a group of trapped survivors (that include a cute dog and a screaming Silly Girly) and tries to lead them to safety in his bid for atonement. Stallone is fine in a straightforward action performance, partly because he stays so busy.

Daylight has a Poseidon-like feel with the dangers the badly damaged, semi-flooded tunnel presents much like those of the stricken ship. It’s reasonably entertaining and tense with a good last half hour, but the deaths are unimaginative or pedestrian, especially that of an arrogant celebrity climber. The staples of the 70s disaster flick that I enjoy, such as self-sacrifice, mass panic and the treacherous bad guy out to save himself, are also missing. Daylight definitely could have done with some killer African bees showing up.

“I look at this town and I don’t like what I see anymore.” Cop Land (1997)

Half-deaf, paunchy and with a geeky hairdo, Freddy Heflin isn’t your typical Stallone cop. Indeed, he doesn’t do a thing for well over an hour, content to play pinball, listen to Springsteen, eat from vending machines, pine for an unrequited love and be continually patronized by the ‘real’ cops all around him. Cobra, he ain’t. Nevertheless, we sense the worm is going to turn…

And that’s one of the problems with Cop Land. It’s built on an interesting idea and boasts a heavyweight cast, but is hamstrung by predictability. Weak development and a handful of silly sequences don’t help, either.

Freddy has a cushy job in charge of a small New Jersey town that’s home to a bunch of crooked NYC cops from across the river. This apparent loophole means Internal Affairs can’t properly investigate (“They made themselves a place where the shit couldn’t touch them”) while Freddy plays his part by having looked the other way for a decade. Slowly, though, this Mob-funded cesspit gets uncovered and Freddy (despite doing his best to convince us he’s a pussy) ends up doing typical Stallone stuff, albeit in a weirdly slow-mo kind of way.

Cop Land is an implausible dud, but at least it’s watchable and offered Sly a change of pace. He got a fair few plaudits for testing his mettle against the likes of De Niro, Keitel, Liotta and Robert Patrick and deserves credit for dialing down the gravelly voiced, mean and moody bullshit. However, this results in him ambling around with a dim-witted smile, spending far too much time on the periphery. He’s half lost among an excess of supporting characters and subplots that go nowhere. It’s true Sly is more subtle than anyone else here, but when it comes to memorability his mumbling performance pales next to his well-written, Oscar-nominated turn in the original Rocky.






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