Can You Get A Stuntman For My Dialogue Too?

By Adam Lippe

16370-27471You would think that after Copland, Sylvester Stallone would have understood his new niche and retired his action hero poses to move on to different and more challenging projects. Even, Driven, which was based on his own screenplay (though he tends to have a writing hand in all films he stars in) acknowledges his age and being over the hill, and a willingness to pass the torch. But even today, with projects like Avenging Angelo and Get Carter, he refuses to accept his fate, and thus, with audiences no longer respecting him as a muscle bound action star, his films have been going direct to video and DVD. He is not alone in this, Steven Seagal has seen 8 of his last 10 movies never reach US theaters. Jean Claude Van Damme has had 9 of his last 10 releases go DTV. Dolph Lundgren hasn’t been in a movie at a multiplex since his small role in Johnny Mnemonic, 17 paychecks ago. Perhaps the audience grew tired of the glut of these sorts of movies in the early to mid 90’s, causing lower wattage/no charisma B stars like Michael Dudikoff, Jeff Speakman, Gary Daniels, Thomas Ian Griffith, and Don “The Dragon” Wilson to almost fall into oblivion. But those stars were never in big budget films with promotional money, and were always on the cusp of being DTV stars anyway. Do actors like Stallone, Van Damme, and Seagal believe that they are still at the top of their game? Or would they admit that they are spitting out tired retreads of movies from their heyday that no one cares about anymore? Where does ego erode and boredom begin?

eye-see-you-splashStallone was one of the first to go through one of these dilemmas, since his action/thriller D-Tox, known in this country as Eye See You (because the killer keeps saying it/writing it on the inside of his victim’s eyelids, no sarcastic joke even needed to make fun of that silliness), was in limbo for three years before finally getting a straight to DVD release in 2002. At a cost of $55 million, this would seem unfathomable, it has often been said that Hollywood doesn’t mind putting small movies on the shelf, it might be cheaper to simply dump them rather than put full promotion behind it. However, they simply can’t afford to bury the larger projects, and it’s why you almost never see a huge movie disappear from existence.

With Eye See You, it is understandable why Universal couldn’t commit to a release date, nor know what to do with it. It begins as a serial killer thriller, with Stallone as an FBI agent chasing down a mysterious man knocking off cops and leaving no clues. When the killer goes after a Stallone loved one, he goes into a funk, becoming a full blown alcoholic, before his friend and fellow agent Charles S. Dutton drag him to an isolated rehab for cops, run by Kris Kristofferson. After a few scenes of Stallone and other cops discussing their problems with the bottle, they begin to die one by one, and it turns into an Agatha Christie mystery. The problem is that the movie is 90 minutes long before the closing credits, and each of these sections is given ½ an hour a piece, allowing for little in the way of development. Dutton isn’t even allowed a scene to show that he’s Stallone’s best friend before dragging him off to the snowy middle of nowhere where the de-tox is held. There are also a huge array of characters, Robert Patrick as the braggart cop who uses everyone’s past against them, Tom Berenger as one of the feeble attendants of the rehab center, Jeffrey Wright doing his patented twitching schtick, as one of the down on his luck cops, Dina Meyer, who’s only function is obvious before the credits are over. She forgives Sly for skipping out on dinner without even an apology, and he seems happy with her. You can guess how quickly she becomes a victim. But she’s one of dozens of characters who fly by without making any dent in the memory. Stephen Lang, Robert Prosky, Courtney B. Vance, Sean Patrick (Powder) Flanery are all on hand introduced so they can be suspects, though we never know who they are exactly. Polly Walker seems to have some connection with Stallone’s past, they were maybe close at some point, and that’s why she has a connection with him at the rehab, but it’s never made clear how or where she knows him from.

kriseyeseeyouOne would assume that the audience was supposed to be stunned as these and the thirty other character actors start dying, but since the kills aren’t inventive, except for an early drill through the eye, and most of the bodies are simply discovered well after they’ve bitten it, it’s hard to be motivated to do more than shrug your shoulders. Even the reasons for all these deaths is haphazardly thrown together in voice-over, it doesn’t even connect with the opening scenes. Once we see that Stallone is hanging out in dank bars all day, we never learn what happened to the serial killer, whether he kept killing, went into hiding, took over Chevy Chase’s role in another Vacation movie, or what.

The visual look doesn’t help either, it’s a fuzzy and depressing color scheme of dark grays and faintly visible snow covered wilderness. They don’t even take advantage of the always mesmerizing look of bright red blood on amidst snow, which worked so well in Fargo and A Simple Plan. The rehab compound looks like an impenetrable fortress, and inside it is just as poorly lit and overbearing, which doesn’t help that we have to spend 2/3 of the movie there. Stallone’s makeup is the only moment of humor in the film, the purple eye shadow is so overused in an attempt to show us how he doesn’t sleep and is at a low point, that he appears to be a cadaver. And his constant flashbacks to Meyer’s death (we see the same shots 4 or 5 times) are in the patented slow-mo dark blue and are a constant reminder that he doesn’t manage to manufacture any sympathy as an actor and has to have the director do it for him.

eyeseestaNever mind that Eye See You cheats, we hear the killer’s voice in the opening scenes, both distorted and undistorted, but when his identity is revealed, it is clearly not the same person as easily determined by the distinctive accent. The main issue is how dull the whole movie is. It neither commits to being over the top, nor is it really competent, it just exists for an hour and a half.

To quote Roger Ebert*: Eye See You is “an ideal movie for audiences with little taste and atrophied attention spans who want to glance at the screen occasionally and ascertain that something is still happening up there.”

If one considers that Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 sat on the shelf for three years before finally getting a theatrical release, and Eye See You cost at least twice as much, had a once-bankable star in the lead, but no one was enthusiastic enough to give it a push, you get a sense of the kind of impression the film will make on a viewer.

*This was from his review of Hellbound: Hellraiser II. He’s wrong.

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Roadracers

By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]


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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.