(Or The Death of the Mid-Level Action Genre)
On October 9, 1992, “Under Siege” opened as the number one movie in America, pulling in a whopping fifteen million dollars. By today’s box office standards, this kind of opening would have been considered an utter failure and the film would have been pushed aside and dropped into the nearest bargain basket. But this little action film about an ex-navy seal turned chef and former playboy bunny battling terrorists bent on taking over a military battleship (with a summary like that, how could it not be box-office gold) went onto gross over one hundred and fifty million dollars, spawn two sequels, and help cement Steven Seagal’s place among the top tier of action superstars.
Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Willis. Van Damme.
They aren’t just names, but icons of a generation. Children everywhere were running through glass without shoes, while windmill kicking their friends and sporting red ribbons pulled tight across their foreheads. These films were larger than life, heroic fairy tales. (Before “Under Siege”, Seagal made the same movie three times and no one even noticed.) They defied logic but who the hell cares? Every male child of the eighties wanted to be in one.
As time passed, the films began to dwindle in quality. Schwarzenegger and Willis moved to the A-List and played around in other fan-friendly genres. Seagal got bigger and his roles got smaller (He didn’t even make it out of the first act of Executive Decision) and Van Damme pulled a “Patty Duke” and portrayed two action heroes in the same movie. The box offices shrank and the plots got more derivative. Now, the great action stars of our youth have either stepped into politics or been reduced to cameos or parodies of themselves. It’s sad and I feel sorry for the children.
So where is THIS generation’s action stars? Where are the well-built foreign imports who accept their acting limitations and cover them up with multiple explosions? John Cena? Jason Statham? Really? That’s all we get? What the hell happened?
The mid-level action genre has been gutted and split in two like the Red Sea. Future stars like The Rock, Vin Diesel, and Wesley Snipes stepped into the forefront with some solid box office success. But just like college basketball, faster than you can scream “Yippie-Ki-Yah Mother%*&%#”, they were off to the big leagues to diversify. (Didn’t they learn anything from “Stop, or My Mom will Shoot”?)
So instead of another “The Rundown” we got “The Game Plan”. Instead of another “XXX”, we got “The Pacifier”. And Wesley, well, he just had tax problems.
This left the genre in the hands of the straight-to-DVD community, a group that is perfectly content with mass-producing uninspired knockoffs and ill-conceived sequels. It’s possible that the next great action star could step forth from this over-populated nightmare and make a name for themselves (maybe an MMA star like John St. Pierre or “Rampage” Jackson), but until that day comes, we’re stuck with aging evaporating fodder like “Pistol Whipped”, “Flight of Fury”, and “Attack Force”.
R.I.P., Steven. You were loved and you will be missed. But, please, let your career go gracefully.
If you got any feedback, hit me back here. Until next time…