Hollywood Hard Bastards: Volume Four
If there’s one thing that allows a Hard Bastard to stand head and shoulders above mere mortals, it’s their rousing tenacity. One spartan who exemplifies this trait is this week’s first contender Sylvester Stallone in 1979’s rousing Rocky II. This time, unremitting underdog Balboa struggles with celebrity life after going the distance with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Losing respect after starring in gaudy commercials and with wife Adrien in a coma, the stuttering stallion decides to reclaim his mojo by arranging a rematch and reducing Creed’s face to mush.
One perspiring, chicken-chasing, step-ascending montage later, the ‘greasy-fast 200lb Italian tank’ locks horns with his nemesis and though Creed racks up the points, Rocky refuses to go down. Bamboozling the champ with his southpaw style, Balboa soaks up the pain, spectacularly winning the heavyweight crown and appreciation, dedicating the win to his missus. Inspirational (29/50).
Next, Stallone is up again as murderous ‘Machine Gun’ Joe, the hot-rodding villain of 1975’s insane Roger Corman-produced Death Race 2000. In a dystopian future where America is hooked on a savage cross-country vehicular race where points are awarded for squidging pedestrians, Joe is second only to David Carradine’s deformed rebel Frankenstein in the icy cold bastard stakes.
This ‘anti-Rocky’ skilfully dodges landmines and relishes the obliteration of civilians in a sick game where toddlers are worth extra. Joe is a snarling, sleazy, pissed-off presence, unhappy that Frankenstein gets all the plaudits, gleefully running over a man’s head to show his dissaproval. However, Frankenstein easily bests him in a savage garage dust-up, proving that without his car, Joe’s bark is worse than his bite (22/50).
A far more zen presence is Steven Seagal as spiritual bomb disposal virtuoso Frank Glass in DTV schlock king Albert Pyun’s Ticker (2000). A pre-pie era Seagal still looks lean, mean and tough as hell, forming an uneasy alliance with Tom Sizemore’s vengeful cop on the trail of Dennis Hopper’s atrociously-accented Irish bomber.
Despite this being Sizemore’s star-vehicle, Lord Steven really steals the show, exuding badass charisma, calmly defusing bombs and cleverly despatching bad guys by punching their cars so the airbag rattles their faces. Though this poorly directed muck won’t be at the top of anyone’s CV, Seagal emerges unscathed by showcasing his legendary aikido face-twatting skills and delivering fruity dialogue that no-one else could get away with. When Glass helps Nettles defuse an incendiary device by gravelly whispering ‘You can do it…by knowing the nature of your mind,’ you know you’re in safe hands (29/50).
Bruce Willis too proves he’s got action in his blood as disgraced cop Tom Hardy (not that one), in Road House director Rowdy Herrington’s Striking Distance (1993). Demoted to river patrol and partnered with a chick (Sarah Jessica Parker), borderline alcoholic Hardy makes some serious waves in his search for his pop’s killer.
Hardy radiates machismo, having meaningful conversations in the middle of car chases and taking on boatfuls of riverboat scumbags, solo. Accused of being an alkie, the dude fires back, ‘Maybe you need a drink to ease the pain of bein’ fuckin’ wrong!’ The guy is so tough he fights the killer while handcuffed and still manages to get the better of him by tazering him in the face as they brawl in the briny deep. Ballsy (31/50).
Jean Claude Van Damme also takes to the waves for the delirious, high-speed jet-ski opening of 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return. It’s a glorious, stunt-packed curtain-raiser to this tale that sees JCVD’s Luc Devereux return to battle an army of Universal Soldiers when a sentient supercomputer goes out of control. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there, in Director Mic Rodger’s lame-brained, low-budget debut, where Van Damme spends more time running away from Goldberg’s monstrous antagonist and getting rescued by girls than actually busting heads.
Happily, The Muscles does eventually get to equalise numerous UniSols, even stuffing one in a washing machine, before a titanic final clash with Michael Jai White’s chief baddie. Van Damme somersaults, smacks and roundhouse kicks his way to redemption before rather rubbishly offing his cybernetic foe in a manner pinched from Terminator 2. Lazy (22/50).
Speaking of dormancy, Derbyshire’s finest, Jason Statham, finally gets round to joining us, with Guy Ritchie’s 2005 psychological crime caper Revolver. The Stath is Jake Green, a vengeance-fuelled ‘confidence trickster,’ in possession of a formula for the ‘perfect con.’ The poker-faced Transporter hero is super-cool throughout, clashing with Ray Liotta’s crime kingpin, but the flick is low on action and heavy on pretentious, self-indulgent dialogue and overcomplicated plot.
When afforded the chance, take-no-shit wild card Statham flexes his muscles admirably, spraying bullets and leaping down fire escapes, but it’s not enough. As the director disappears up his own arse in a cloud of impenetrable, psychobabble nonsense talk, you’ll be lucky to work out what the hell’s going on. Poor (19/50).
Much more welcome is the first appearance of the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, taking on a deadly public execution gauntlet staged as a game show in Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky!!!)’s 1987 classic The Running Man. Arnie is Ben Richards, wrongly convicted of a heinous crime and forced to brawl with a band of ridiculously-attired, futuristic warriors in a televised game of death where ratings are valued more highly than human life.
The Austrian powerhouse goes to work nullifying fearsome gladiators with names like Sub Zero and Fireball with devastating but mesmerising ultra-violence and sublime punnery. When Sub Zero is asphyxiated with barbed wire, Richards cracks, ‘he was a real pain in the neck.’ A psycho named Buzzsaw literally gets sawed in half, as our hero spits, ‘He had to split!’ Arnie is in his awe-inspiring eighties prime, dodging exploding hockey pucks, setting blokes on fire, and doing insane shit with his award-winning muscles. You really don’t want to be Killian when Richards declares, ‘I’ll live to see you eat that contract, but I hope you leave enough room for my fist, because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!’ Magnificent (35/50).
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