From Kindergarten Cop to Cop and a Half, the nineties were a time when Hard Bastards wanted to show there was more to their repertoire than snapping spines and giving henchmen lead poisoning. No, they wanted to do funny, which is why this week a thoroughly ruffled-looking Sylvester Stallone gurns in the shadow of Golden Girl Estelle Getty in 1992’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) helms this whimsical tale of cocky, streetsmart cop Joe Banowski, whose style is severely cramped by his elderly meddling mother’s unexpected visit.
From passing his baby pictures round the precinct, to washing his piece with bleach, poor Joe has his hands full, especially with the illegal arms case that his momma just happens to be key witness in. Though severely emasculated and upstaged throughout, Stallone does eventually break free from Getty’s apron strings to stomp bad guy butt, dodging wrecking balls and playing chicken with an aeroplane to save the motherlovin’ day (24/50).
Sly gets to reaffirm his manliness in 2006’s rousing Rocky Balboa, which sees the legendary pugilist – old, widowed and forced to retire before his time – trapped in a sombre existential funk. He gets the chance to reclaim his mojo when a TV computer simulation suggests that, in his prime, the Italian Stallion would easily have bested current champ, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver). When Dixon throws the gauntlet, cue one ferociously uplifting training montage that sees our hero huff, puff and sweat his way to ‘buildin’ some hurtin’ bombs’!
The final fight is spectacular, Rocky shocking the doubters by unleashing hell on the young pretender, going the distance and hitting him so hard his ancestors feel it. Their expertly choreographed brawl is a blast, giving this celebrated franchise the heart-rending coda it deserves (32/50).
Also showing the kids how it’s done, Bruce Willis returns as the irrepressible John McClane in Underworld director Len Wiseman’s incendiary Die Hard 4.0 (2007). When cyber terrorists use t’internet to grab America by the balls, analogue ass-whupper in a digital age McClane teams up with Justin Long’s whippersnapper hacker to cause property damage and save the free world.
It’s a pulsating jaunt as McClane compensates for his lack of techno-savvy by just skelping the villains twice as hard. The set-pieces are insane, with the snarky hero surfing the wing of a freefalling Harrier jump jet, and ‘killing’ a helicopter with a car, because he’s ‘out of bullets’. McClane is damn-near invincible here and whether he’s fighting sexy ninja assassins in an elevator shaft, or shooting himself to stop the baddies, this film really cements Willis’ status as one of the hardest cats alive (35/50).
Chuck Norris is next to revisit a successful franchise, directed by brother Aaron in 1990’s Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection. Hot on the trail of the cartel who smoked his partner’s family, Chuck shines as Col. Scot McCoy, a Special Forces titan so slick he chucks evil-doers out of planes then sky dives after them to teach them a cheeky lesson. Chief antagonist Cota (Billy Drago) is a git so villainous he murders babies to use as drug mules, so when these two face off, you know Chuck’s gonna bring the pain!
Norris swashbuckles and snake-strangles his way through his jungle quest, exhibiting exemplary stealth and style. After fearlessly motoring through the epicentre of a fierce firefight, McCoy twats his nemesis so hard it sounds like an earthquake, before dropping him from a helicopter and standing back to admire his handiwork. It’s cheesy, clichéd nonsense, but Norris remains admirably stoic throughout (34/50).
The Norris siblings return with 1992’s inventive, kid-friendly fight flick Sidekicks, with Chuck doing a grand job of portraying himself. Jonathan Brandis (It) is the lonely, asthmatic kid working out his problems through intensely vivid daydreams, playing sidekick to Chuck’s hero. This allows for some entertainingly exaggerated set-pieces, with Chuck and the kid performing insane amounts of backflips while equalising colourful armies of Nazis, cowboys and ninjas.
It’s an uplifting hybrid of The Karate Kid and Sucker Punch, perhaps a little too saccharine, but full of neat ideas that blur the line between imagination and reality. Sidekicks is a film about how inspirational Norris is, and when the real Chuck turns up to partner the kid in the climactic karate tournament, it really is difficult to disagree (35/50).
Before we can catch our breath, John McClane strikes back, in John McTiernan’s volatile Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995). This time, Jeremy Irons’ sinister euro-villain hides bombs in the Big Apple and wants the wisecracking copper to do his bidding. Joining out hungover hero in this deadly game of Simon Says is jive-talkin’ Sam Jackson who, amazingly, offers even more cantankerousness than McClane.
Together, they conquer a heart-stopping catalogue of physical and mental challenges in a desperate race against the clock. McClane rallies a cab through Central Park, derails a booby-trapped subway train and even swaggers through Harlem wearing an incredibly inflammatory, xenophobic banner. All the bruised, battered, wife-beater wearing warrior really wants is some aspirin, but if he has to annihilate a few scowling euro-goons to get some, so be it (34/50).
Steven Seagal radiates a comparable air of badass attitude in Hellraiser III director Anthony Hickox’s DTV thriller Submerged (2005). A portly Seagal stars as Chris Kody, ‘the world’s best mercenary,’ freed from prison to battle terrorists who have half-inched a nuclear sub. Saggy-faced Steven looks hellish but still has bags of moxie as he assembles a formidable B-movie crew of guerrilla buttkickers. A growling Vinnie Jones (Snatch) and cleavage-flaunting Alison King (TV’s Dream Team!) end up shouldering most of the action duties, though the ponytailed one does get to show off some brain-impaling knife-work.
Though he spends most of this horrifically half-arsed mush sitting on his well-cushioned behind, Seagal does get to spit quality lines like ‘You’ve become poison…and I’m the antidote!’, while a rollicking one-on-one with a towering bald-headed enforcer reminds us that he’s still capable of some hypnotic, soul-stirring combat. Another battle over, we can only pray this Hard Bastard can one day win the war against the pies (24/50).
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