When he gained movie stardom in the early 1980s, there was a lot of speculation about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name — mainly, would it fit on theater marquees? But that was an old-school worry, as Schwarzenegger will discover now that he’s left all the phonies and backstabbers in politics to rejoin all the phonies and backstabbers in Hollywood.
Nobody posts movie-star names outside the theaters anymore. These days there’s barely enough room on the marquee for the eight or 10 or 20 titles playing at the average multiplex. And many mutiplexes don’t even have marquees.
Anyway, the 65-year-old Schwarzenegger (did I spell that right?) is back in the game as one of the geezer action-hero ensemble in 66-year-old Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables 2,” which opens today. This over-the-hill gang also includes Bruce Willis (57), Jean-Claude Van Damme (51), Chuck Norris (72), Dolph Lundgren (54) and Jet Li (49). (Which makes 44-year-old Jason Statham the baby of the bunch, and 22-year-old Liam Hemsworth a newborn.)
Seeing Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Norris, Lundgren and Li in the trailers for “The Expendables 2” has been giving me ’80s/’90s flashbacks. I cut my movie-reviewing teeth on Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Norris films in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and a bit later saw the rise of Willis, Van Damme and Lundgren, while catching up with Li’s Chinese martial-arts films at local art houses. It’s weird seeing them all together, like some kind of bodybuilding school reunion. The only one missing is Steven Seagal!
I felt this way to some degree with the first “Expendables,” which starred Stallone, Li and Lundgren, with brief cameos by Willis and Schwarzenegger. But adding Van Damme and Norris to the mix takes me back to when all these guys were jostling for box-office dollars during those decades, luring (mostly male) moviegoers with promises of lots of action and little exposition.
Of course, Stallone, with his “Rocky” and “Rambo” franchises, and Schwarzenegger, with his “Conan” and “Terminator” franchises, and later Willis, with the “Die Hard” flicks, were A-list heroes, while the other guys labored in lower-budget, B-level efforts, occasionally breaking out with a surprise box-office hit — Van Damme with “Universal Soldier” (co-starring Lundgren) and “Timecop”; Norris with “Lone Wolf McQuade” and the “Missing in Action” franchise (though he eventually gained even greater fame with his “Walker, Texas Ranger” TV series); and Lundgren with “Rocky IV” (Stallone’s film, of course) and “Universal Soldier.” Many of Jet Li’s Chinese martial-arts thrillers (especially the “Once Upon a Time in China” franchise) were successful worldwide but mostly gathered a cult fan base in the United States.
If this sequel is anything like the first “Expendables,” it’ll be just like many of those ’80s and ’90s pictures — a whole lot of shooting, explosions, wisecracks, musclebound antics and not much plot.
Who needs a story when you’ve got these guys? By the time each one gets his share of screen time and the plot starts developing, the film will be over.
With all the ’80s nostalgia this brings on, I half expect to look at the movie listings online and find that local theaters are also playing a Woody Allen movie, a Batman movie, an Alien movie or “Total Recall.”
• Every now and then a movie comes along that is sold in trailers and TV spots as something it is not. “Hope Springs,” starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a long-married couple trying to reignite their sex life, is being sold quite aggressively as a flat-out, laugh-a-minute comedy. But that’s not what it is.
In fact, “Hope Springs” is very much a dramatic, and very adult, exploration of two empty-nesters who have drifted apart even though they live in the same house. There are some funny moments — all of which have found their way into the trailers — but this is a far cry from being a comedy. And don’t let the presence of Steve Carell as their therapist throw you; he plays it straight, getting nary a laugh.
But the bigger question hovering over this film is why in the world it’s rated PG-13. There is nothing in this movie that is appropriate for high-schoolers. Chalk up another puzzling decision by the folks who rate the movies for the Motion Picture Association of America.
• At the end of last week’s column I lamented that the 1932 W.C. Fields Olympics-spoof comedy “Million Dollar Legs” is not on DVD. Late in the week, too late to fix the column, I received an email alert from Turner Classic Movies about a new four-movie box set from the 1930s, and guess what one of the films is? That’s right. “Million Dollar Legs” is part of the “Universal Rarities” set newly available at the TCM website, tcm.com.
Technically, the set should be “Paramount Rarities.” Although the films are owned by Universal now, all four were originally released by Paramount Pictures. The other three are “Belle of the Nineties” (1934), starring Mae West; “Artists & Models” (1937), with Jack Benny; and Gary Cooper in “Souls at Sea” (1937).
Hmmm. Don’t I have a birthday coming up?