I have a love for cheesy 80’s action flicks, the macho soundtrack – which is no longer macho – the blatant gun porn, the lack of respect for human life and the brutality.
The thing is these films are not only inherently flawed but they stick to a certain amount of clichés that weren’t really discarded until the late 1990’s. Even today as you pass the DVD shelf in a supermarket you see some terrible excuse for a film, possibly starring some nondescript WWE wrestler trying to make it like ‘The Rock’.
These so called action films harp back to the wonderful 80’s but can’t quite connect on the level that their predecessors did. Usually they are badly written and poorly acted, they rarely have any room for tongue and cheek, which these films need heap loads of.
These clichés need to be called out, for the sake of current action movies and our sanity. We need to figure out what’s gone wrong and what could be done better.
You know you’re in an 80’s action movie when:
Your partner is a few days from retirement – this was an overused plot point in loads of films – usually said partner would end up being gunned down halfway through the film, creating some much needed revenge for our hero. I always found it to be best used when the partner didn’t die but changed his mind about the retirement. Lethal Weapon 3, although not technically the 80’s, was a good use of the retirement plot.
You have a kidnapped child/spouse/significant other – Another classic ploy to get the protagonist out of his living room and into the firing line. Usually ends up badly for the kidnappers, one such man being impaled through the stomach with a massive pipe and being told to ‘let off some steam’. Honestly though I don’t really have much of a problem with the kidnap cliché, it’s still heavily used and it’s a great motivator. One of the most successful action movies of the last few years ‘Taken’ heavily featured kidnap and it was awesome.
You have a ridiculous name – Usually characters in action movies have somewhat silly names. Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti is by far the silliest, this was Sly Stallone’s character in Cobra, a terribly awful guilty pleasure of a film. Others include Casey Ryback (Under Siege) and Mason Storm (Hard to Kill) both Steven Segal pictures… need I say more. What’s wrong with the dudes with the regular names? We not cool enough?
You clearly have no gun control – Sure John Matrix in Commando is fighting to get back his daughter, but the man has no concept of overkill. Breaking into a gun shop to clear the place out so he can wear it all, and shoot every bullet he has. Then you have John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (silly name for a film) he sprays so many bullets he almost drowns himself in casings – a parody that’s well done in Hot Shots Part Deux. If you guys are so highly trained shouldn’t it take a meagre amount of bullets to slay your enemies? Or wouldn’t you tend to have better tactics than running and gunning? Granted it wouldn’t be half as much fun to watch.
You’re some kind of cop – They were always cops, seriously though always bloody cops. Yeah you had your ex army but chances are they were an officer of the law and not an officer and a gentleman. There has been less of an emphasis on this in the more recent good offerings from action cinema, they have realised that there are more careers out there that don’t involve handcuffs and badges. Let’s keep it that way, the less I see of the rogue cop on the loose the better.
Your car gets messed up – If you had a car in an 80’s movie, expect to be claiming insurance by the end of it. There’s no way you’re even going to make it across town without a smashed windshield or a few bullet holes. This will be the least of your problems though, your ride will be hanging together by duct tape by the end. Did you see the state of Danny Glover’s car at the start of Lethal Weapon 2? And that’s just the start. If I were you I’d ditch the car and get the bus. Mind you that comes with a whole other set of 90’s action movie problems.
You know martial arts – You have to. If you don’t know guns then you need to know how to punch and kick, if you can do both then you’re hired on the spot. Indiana Jones showed what happens when you bring fancy moves to a gunfight. You have to be like today’s modern heroes, for instance Jason Bourne, it’s up close and brutal. No more are the days of roundhouse kicks and little flips, it’s all about precision now, even Bond is into it.
You’re the underdog – This is still a popular plot, Rocky popularised this and films like Kickboxer and Karate Kid ran with it. It’s still popular because most folk love an underdog but its overused in the context of action movies, this plot has been filling up bad scripts since the late 70’s. Let it rest or reinvent it please.
These are just some of the horrible plot points and clichés that haunt the 80’s action scene, most have made it into today’s bad films. The genre of action films has changed over the last ten years but still small studios spout out the same old stuff – all it does is end up in a bargain bin. If only these films could be injected with a bit more oomph, give them some new blood and bring back the days of the action flick. If Stallone’s own Expendables can’t prove that the 80’s action can be remade to fit our time then I don’t know what can.