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Countdown to Expendables: Chapter One – ‘The Stranger’

2010/07/29

Let’s get this out of the way right up front:  I like professional wrestling.  I always have, I probably always will.  I’m not going to hide behind the ‘male soap opera’ excuse or anything, I just find it entertaining as hell, I can do five other things while watching it, and thanks to DVR technology, I can get through 8 hours of weekly programming in under half-an-hour.  Yeah, I get it.  It’s not real, and it’s uber-ridiculous in scale, and they aren’t really fighting.  In my 39 years of life on the planet, I’ve worked a few jobs, and I’d say 60% of the dudes I’ve worked with don’t actually do anything their title says they do – so why do the grapplers get strung up?  At least they aren’t in my way to a promotion.

The thing is, I get that it’s hard to take those dudes and ladies as legitimately tough due to the base nature of their gig.  But occasionally, a guy will sneak through that has something different, something mean in the eye.  Not just an affected snarl, or a good act, but someone who is clearly a legit bad-ass.  Not that any of them couldn’t kick my ass, but in the last thirty years there’s been a handful of guys that I just plain wouldn’t fuck with under any circumstance, because they’d enjoy breaking me apart too much, and you can tell they’d be really good in the Pain Infliction category at the Summer Games.  Terry Funk is one.  Kurt Angle is one.  Chris Benoit was one until he lost his mind and killed his whole family, and Brian Pillman was another before he lost his mind and just took himself out of the rotation.  But the king of them all in this division still reigns as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin….even when hamming it up, that guy just exuded an air of anger looking to be channelled.

And as would seem natural to something so rooted in entertaining the masses, there’s been a LOT of movies with pro wrestlers in them.  Unfortunately, about 95% of them are nearly unwatchable (and one day, I’m going to explain to you how everyone involved in the WWE ‘classic’ film entry See No Evil starring Kane should be beaten to death with copies of that dreckblob)…I would say, in actuality, at this point in time, there’s been about 5, maybe 6, that are worth a view – They Live with Roddy Piper, The Rundown with The Rock, maaayyybe Walking Tall and either one of the John Cena movies, either The Marine or 12 Rounds (they’re both pretty much the same story – dismissable, but kinda fun), and certainly The Condemned, Austin’s first starring foray – it’s not genius, but it’s good, solid, formula action, and he’s as great an anti-hero on film as he was in the ring.

So I rented The Stranger, Austin’s latest – and a direct-to-your-home release.  And this is the perfect start to my Expendables journey, because it perfectly illustrates why I want so desperately for it to not just succeed, but bring the genre back to the front burner. 

In short, it’s low-low-budget.  And you know what low-low-budget means in the action genre?  Not a lot of stunts or blow-em-ups.  A lot of dialogue.  These are both horrible traits in an action movie, in case you’re starting a checklist.  The soundtrack is a mish-mash of never-gonna-be’s of metal and rap, the only other halfway recognizable actor is Adam Beach (who plays ‘an FBI agent’, as opposed to his traditional role of ‘a plain-clothes cop’ and who now resembles some sort of mash-up of Lou Diamond Phillips and Benjamin Bratt), and the story is a not-very-subtle lift of The Bourne Identity. Oh, and clearly the budget wasn’t expansive enough to warrant investment in any Steady Cam tech, because there are points this movie is shakier than The Blair Witch Project, which I thought unachievable.

 To sum up, Austin plays some sort of super-agent who has lost his memory because of the death of his wife and daughter, and he’s been rogue and off the radar for a couple of years.  However, his doctor and the FBI agent haven’t given up finding him, and he occasionally surfaces after defending someone from some crime violently and then disappearing again.  Of course, eventually they find him, then he starts remembering things, and people start getting murdered for vengeance.  Meh….like I said, the film is really kinda boring outside of the star. 

However, Austin is great, and I’m dead serious here.  He’s a natural for the anti-hero archetype, and he clearly is working his ass off to be good at this.  Hell, he even speaks Spanish and Russian in this thing fluidly (and yes, I meant ‘fluidly’.  ‘Fluently’ would have been a bit of a stretch).  Let me put it this way:  Austin speaks better Spanish AND Russian in this crud than Van Damme and Schwarzenegger ever spoke English in their combined careers.  He tough, but just ‘sensitive heart’ enough to make the idea buyable, and he’s a great one-liner guy.  But unless this genre gets a serious kick in the ass, and soon, he’s doomed to be trapped in these schleckworks for the rest of time.  The Tooth Fairy 2 just isn’t going to be an option, and that’s a good thing. 

So all in all, I’m glad I took the time, this gets me more driven to hope The Expendables goes large and breaks out a new generation of big-budget action stars, with Austin in the front of the line.  But in all legitimacy, the movie itself is a little over a 2, maybe a 3 and based solely on Austin – I found myself just waiting for all the other people to stop talking so he could get back into the action.  Oh, and I nearly forgot…the opening scene, with Austin as a homeless guy with long hair and a beard is worth it, because he looks exactly like Nick Nolte in that arrest shot, and that’s a great image.   Hell, for that alone, I’ll give The Stranger a 3 out of 7, and that’s the bottom line, cause MattyP said so.

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