Thursday, May 1, 2014
Heavy Action: 10 Underrated Action Movies
1. Rapid Fire (1992, dir. Dwight H. Little) I'll let you in on a secret: this movie is the inspiration for this list. Anything that gives me an excuse to write about Rapid Fire and hopefully get more #HeavyAction fans to check it out is worthwhile, as this continues to creep up on my list of all-time favorite action movies. The late Brandon Lee does his best work (sorry, The Crow) as Jake Lo, an art student who witnesses a murder and finds himself being hunted by both a mob boss and a drug kingpin. This is a movie I like more every year -- the Chicago locations are good, Dwight H. Little is the man, the fight choreography is rad and, most of all, it's the movie that should have made Brandon Lee a star. He's vulnerable, he's badass, he's real. Rapid Fire is the kind of movie genre fans finally discover and wonder how the hell they had never seen it before. I love this movie.
3. The Way of the Gun (2000, dir. Christopher McQuarrie) The directorial debut of Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie is a brutal, profane, nasty bit of business starring Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro as lowlife criminals in over their heads as part of a kidnapping plot. Alternating between brilliant dialogue (look no further than the opening scene with Sarah Silverman) and stark minimalism, Way of the Gun also boasts an insane bench of supporting character actors: Scott Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt and James Caan giving as good a performance as he's given in the last 30 years. Few action movies feature gunshots that are louder than this one. A truly underrated classic.
The Last Stand (2013, dir. Kim Jee-woon) Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role after a decade spent as Governor of California might just be the most underrated movie in his entire filmography. Released to nonexistent box office and a general shrug by the moviegoing public (even genre fans, who ought to be ashamed of themselves), the American debut of the great Kim Jee-woon combines his talent for inventive, kinetic photography and excessive violence with the old-fashioned Western. Sure, Schwarzenegger is a little rusty, but the rustiness is part of the point. There are some problematic subplots (the ones with Forest Whitaker and Eduardo Noriega) and some problematic performances (the ones from Forest Whitaker and Eduardo Noriega), but when the movie is in that western town it really, really works.
5. Extreme Justice (1993, dir. Mark L. Lester) An early-'90s effort from the director of Commando might have gotten a small theatrical release but mostly went straight to cable. It's the usual story of an elite group of corrupt cops in L.A. -- David Ayer before David Ayer -- but it sports an incredible cast of genre stars and character actors including Scott Glenn, Lou Diamond Phillips, Chelsea Field, Yaphet Kotto, Andrew Divoff, William Lucking, Paul Ben-Victor, Stephen Root and Ed Lauter. The movie was originally slapped with an NC-17 for its nonstop bloody violence. Talk about EXTREME! It's a 90-minute blood-soaked dick measuring contest (it is not actually about penises soaked in blood -- which, incidentally, is the name of my upcoming memoir) for only the most devoted #HeavyAction fans, who will undoubtedly love it.
7. Demolition Man (1993, dir. Marco Brambilla) It may no longer be fair to call Demolition Man "underrated," seeing as it has developed a sizable cult of fans since it was first released and utterly misunderstood in the early '90s. Sure, it's a bit messy, but that's because everyone is making a different movie. Stallone is in one, Wesley Snipes (playing futuristic supervillain Simon Phoenix) is in another and director Marco Brambilla is making a third, based on Daniel Waters' very funny and satiric screenplay. Originally (and sometimes still incorrectly) dismissed as accidentally stupid, Demolition Man knows exactly what it is and what it's doing. There are just too many things to love about the movie for it to be accidental: Sandra Bullock, Taco Bell, Bob Gunton, Enhance Your Calm, knitting, cryosleep, the three seashells...the list goes on. Because it came during a bumpy patch for Stallone and because things blow up, people called it stupid. It's not. It's smart and it's crazy entertaining.
9. Nowhere to Run (1993, dir. Robert Harmon) There are a bunch of action movies that get mentioned in reference to Jean-Claude Van Damme's best work: Kickboxer, Bloodsport, Timecop, Hard Target, Sudden Death. Very few fans bring up 1993's Nowhere to Run, an old-fashioned drama that finds Van Damme's drifter landing in small town and befriending a young boy (Kieran Culkin) and his foxy, available mother (Rosanna Arquette) while defending them against evil land developers. Except for the fight choreography and some nudity, this could practically have been made in the 1950s. It's probably Van Damme's most "legit" movie, in that it stood the best shot of appealing to an audience outside of his target demographic. They didn't really turn out, though, and the usual #HeavyAction audience felt alienated by a movie that's low on action. The film barely recouped its (pretty low) budget and is mostly forgotten, which is too bad. It's one of Van Damme's best.