|Sylvester Stallone Source:last.fm|
Here’s another Oscar-nominee! Sylvester Stallone earned Best Performance and Best Screenplay nominations for the 1976 film Rocky. Pretty much the entirety of Stallone’s career since this film has been an unmitigated disaster. However, with the occasional, anomalous gem like the enjoyable Demolition Man or the unintentionally-comic Rocky IV, he has managed to keep his credibility quite high. So, what in the Hell is that all about?
Sylvester Stallone holds a distinction of creating a number of iconic film characters very early in his career. This is rare, and admirable. Thus, it is impossible to deny Sly Stallone’s talent. However, he is the victim of the failed studio system and has became more and more of a product, losing, piece by piece, any of the charisma and blue-collar charm that made him a likable, flawed, every man hero in Rocky.
The American public began to see a precursor to what will become Stallone’s defining character archetype (the badass who will do anything it takes) in the 1981 crime thriller Nighthawks, a movie that revels in Regan-era politics and heavy-handed, far-right, tough justice It is a really, really stupid movie, notorious for justifying police corruption and violence based solely on the idea that the audience knows the guys they are after are bad, therefore it’s okay. We would see a repeat of these ideals in the 1986 disaster Cobra.
1987 is considered one of the worst years in film history (you’ll probably be hearing that a lot in this series and in future articles), and for Stallone, it is one of the most embarrassing years of his career. In the tried and true theory that Hollywood will make a movie out of literally anything, we got Over the Top, a movie about competitive arm wrestling. It sucked. The general consensus was negative before anyone even really saw the movie, and in a year that gave us The Secret of My Success, Leonard Part 6, the Garbage Pail Kids and Ishtar, believe me when I say that Over the Top maybe the single dumbest major Hollywood movie of 1987.
The entirety of the 90’s were bad for Stallone, and even the aforementioned Demolition Man, despite being fun, is by no means a great film. Oscar, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Rocky V, the Specialist and Judge Dredd are all examples of the absolute worst of Stallone’s career. Also, there is his notorious and laughable quirk of playing characters with really stupid names like Joe Tonto, Ray Quick, John Spartan, Lincoln Hawk and Cosmo Carboni. However, he lacks the goofy charisma and schlocky charm of a truly entertaining action-exploitation performance we would get from the likes of Pierre Kirby or Reb Brown in performances that would justify such silly names.
Another major issue with Stallone is, despite his likability in many performances on screen, he is one of those actors that is always more or less the same. You will never see him disappear into a role like Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh or Ian McKellan. Instead, you will always see the actor, never the character. The only example of this is, of course, Rocky, and I think that is really the problem with Stallone’s career as a whole. He peaked too soon.
We see this happening a lot in Hollywood. A promising young star will rise to greatness so fast, that there is no where else to go but down. It does not help that many of these performers end up in action or comedy roles, which, for the most part, are bad. Very, very bad. Stallone’s career was further impeded by his apparent resistance to evolve as an actor. Former action superstars like Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood have spent their aged years starring in movies that were quieter, in roles that have been more challenging. This has led to them being mostly successful despite being older (recent Die Hard sequels notwithstanding). Stallone, on the other hand, shows no signs of slowing down to aim for a stronger character performance, still wanting to strut his stuff in CGI-filled action tripe.
Stallone did take a break for comedies in the early 90’s, but this did not end well. I think this was the point where he said to himself, “Well, I’m never trying THAT again.” and just went back to performances his audience would have expected from him. Still, time has not been good to Stallone’s career. As he grew in popularity, he fell victim to a number of Hollywood trends that only seem to snake in those unfortunate enough to be at the canopy of the Hollywood jungle, like a thick rain of a flock of migrating birds’ droppings. The specific trend I am referring to is the early-to-mid 90’s push by Hollywood to seem to want to emasculate every major alpha male superstar created in the 80’s. I am not entirely sure where this trend came from, or why it became so big (none of these movies were good), but Stallone stepped right into this steaming pile, and nobody was there to hand him a stick or anything, it just festered on the bottom of his career. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was so bad that it actually was more or less unanimous in its presence on worst of the year lists for 1992 and generally ranks high among the worst films of the 90’s. Despite following this movie up with the successful, more traditional actioner Cliffhanger in 1993, Stallone basically set out the rest of 90’s. He appeared in a few movies here or there, but most were unsuccessful.
Still, Stallone held on to much of his credibility until Judge Dredd became the stone around his neck. He has never been able to recover, as much as he has tried, from this looming cloud of a movie. What’s worse is the success and praise of a second attempt at a Dredd movie recently, which has brought the nightmare back for Stallone as many people spent a majority of the discussion of the new movie mocking Stallone’s older version. Not to say this endless public humiliation is not deserved. Judge Dredd was his big bomb. A movie so bad, that it pretty much sunk his career permanently.
He made a few attempts at a comeback with failures like Get Carter, Driven and the shamefully squandered potential of Cop Land, and then spent several years following a rough late-90’s run into the new millennium with head-hanging desperate straight-to-video roles and a shockingly awful performance in the epically-bad Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, where he plays the villain. Since then, he has spent his career trying to revitalize old characters in Rocky Balboa and the Rambo reboot, hoping, seemingly in vain, to inject some good will in an audience he has spent three decades disappointing.