A few weeks back, we took a moment to lament the absence of several stars who, for whatever reason, had opted to retire from the silver screen. But what of the inverse? Who are the stars we’d like to encourage to go ahead and enjoy a life of leisure, spending time with their families and their money, rather than continuing to flaunt their tired wares in the local multiplex? It’s a question that, for us, was brought on by this week’s release of The Expendables 2, wherein Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, et. al. get into their Rascals and make yet another play for ’80s action movie nostalgia. After the jump, some thoughts on those fellows, and a few more film stars who are due to retire.
We like to imagine that in some other universe, Sylvester Stallone leveraged the success of Rocky into something more interesting than a series of increasingly silly sequels and utterly inane action movies, instead cultivating the easy-to-overlook acting skill (don’t forget, the guy got a Best Actor nomination for Rocky) that made his work in CopLand such a revelation. But in the years following that film — which was supposed to be his Travolta-in-Pulp-Fiction comeback project — he appeared in a series of duds. Then, in ’06, revelation: hop a ride on the nostalgia bus! First he returned to Rocky, then to Rambo, and then he started gathering up other (let’s call a spade a spade) has-beens and C-listers for these Expendable films. Enough already, Sly. You’re a smarter guy than this, and the throwback gravy train is only gonna run for so long.
In retrospect, it’s sort of silly that Schwarzenegger was such a giant movie star at all — he’s a big, beefy slab of granite, and make no mistake, he’s a genuinely terrible actor. But he was a smart guy who hitched his wagon to the right talent (Cameron, specifically), and generated a lot of good will by refusing to take himself too seriously. But his star was already falling fast (remember The 6th Day? End of Days? Collateral Damage?) when he decided to switch from movies to politics, and that didn’t go so well — budget nightmares, massive cuts to public services, a sex scandal, the works. Now that he’s done with that, he’s making a serious play for more movie stardom, appearing with Stallone in the Expendables films and the upcoming prison drama The Tomb, as well as threatening to make that fifth Terminator movie that nobody’s asking for. We wait with something less than bated breath.
With all the faded, Photoshopped action heroes glaring at us from the Expendables posters, we’re a little surprised Mr. Seagal hasn’t joined in; he’s been offered roles in them, but has apparently been too busy, um… Well, doing what, exactly? His last vehicle to get a theatrical release was Half Past Dead, a full decade ago; in the years since, he’s cranked out a stream of low-budget and lower-quality direct-to-video movies that you’ve never heard of. His most high-profile work since then has been on the ridiculous (and lawsuit-prone) “reality” show Lawman and the Reelz original series True Justice. Twenty years ago, the guy was fronting studio action movies opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Michael Caine. Now he’s going direct-to-video and doing reality shows. Hang up the kimono, Steve.
Seagal’s single theatrical film in the past decade was a supporting role in Robert Rodriguez’s enjoyable Machete, and Rodriguez has apparently decided to make the franchise a home for actors no one else wants. The upcoming sequel Machete Kills features Mel Gibson, an actor who is, well, having a bit of a hard time repairing his relationship with audiences. The bad press started about a decade ago, with questions of anti-Semitism (and family Holocaust denial) circling around The Passion of the Christ, but those issues didn’t keep people from seeing the movie; it only got prickly a few years later, when the implicit anti-Semitism became very explicit indeed. That was just a warm-up, though; four years later, ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva released audio tapes of Gibson’s sexist, racist, thoroughly vile, and rather scary rants and threats. Poor Jodie Foster already had the Gibson vehicle The Beaver in the can, and when it was finally released nearly a year later, box office receipts indicated audiences might not be forgiving Mel for this one. His next film, Get the Gringo, played exactly one night in theaters before going direct to DirectTV. Gibson’s got to get it into his head: we simply know too much terrible stuff about him, and it’s impossible to get that stuff out of your head when you’re watching him onscreen.
Speaking of which… Charlie Sheen’s ongoing shit-show of self-destruction and self-delusion have pretty much taken over all other elements of his acting persona, which had mostly morphed into a strange and somewhat unsettling reflection of his real-life womanizing and recklessness (“as if he were starring in fan fiction about himself,” as The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum so eloquently put it). The casual misogyny of Two and A Half Men has amped up on Anger Management, and about the only good thing we can say about that show—inexplicably picked up by FX, usually a reliable provider of daring and unique comedies — is that it’s keeping Sheen out of the moving pictures. Well, almost; he’s rumored to do yet another Scary Movie (this fifth outing will reportedly star Lindsay Lohan, whom we’d put on this list were we not averse to kicking people while they’re down), and he’s playing the president in, of course, Machete Kills.
Come to think of it, there’s another advantage to Sheen’s FX show: the opening he left at Two and Half Men sucked in Ashton Kutcher, who is thus unavailable a few months out of the year to star in the likes of What Happens in Vegas, Killers, No Strings Attached, and the stab-your-eyes-out-for-the-holidays double feature of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Some loathe Two and a Half Men, pointing to it as a counter-argument to those “golden age of television” arguments floating around, but we say hey, if that show keeps him out of movies (and off Twitter), then we’re fully behind it. In fact, who needs a summer hiatus? Two and a Half Men year ’round!
We’ve aired our grievances against Mr. Sandler before, but this list wouldn’t be complete without his inclusion. So, in brief: Sandler’s early comedies were enjoyable fluff, and he’s capable of doing interesting and nuanced work for directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks, and Judd Apatow. But at some point along the line, he and the Memphis Mafia-like sycophants of his Happy Madison Productions just got plain lazy, and he started cranking out assembly-line garbage, half-assed “comedies” relying on barely-developed premises, non-existent jokes, and the same tired crew of hangers-on. And what’s worse, in the middle of them he starred in Funny People, playing a talented but ambitionless hack whose high-concept vehicles are exactly the kind of dreck that Sandler then turned right back around and started churning out again. So, in other words, he knows he’s making shit, he just doesn’t care. If that’s the case, he should put us all out of our misery. Or, at the very least, retire as a producer, so we’re not subjected to any further Bucky Larsons and Deuce Bigelows.
We also said our piece on Mr. Murphy some time ago, and in spite of the many objections, we stand by our criticism, and would like to add something that wasn’t available to us at the time of that article, but sums up the trouble with the once-great comic actor as succinctly as we could hope. At the time, Rolling Stone had only posted highlights of their lengthy and candid print interview (a rarity, for the rather reclusive star); the full interview went up shortly thereafter, and featured this bit of explanation for his continued appearances in utterly terrible films: “some of the movies might be shitty, but they throw so much paper at you that you can’t say no to it.” It should be noted that, according to the interview, he makes this statement from his Beverly Hills mansion, which includes a two-lane bowling alley, recording studio, a video arcade, and a “club room.” Here’s a thought, Eddie: maybe you’ve made enough paper, and you can start saying no.
One of the few actors who can give Murphy a run for his money, inexplicable-run-of-terrible-movies-wise, is the inimitable star of Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous, and Drive Angry 3D. There was a time when his name meant something good: a dangerous and unpredictable edge, an eye for quality projects like Valley Girl, Moonstruck, Red Rock West, and Leaving Las Vegas. But after winning the Oscar for the last of those films, he got a taste of blockbuster money, and he’s barely looked back (save for the occasional prestige project like Matchstick Men serving to remind us of the considerable talent going to waste). Now his name means something bad: dumb scripts and dull action, held together by Mr. Cage’s feverish and comical over-acting. You’d think that, like Murphy, he doesn’t need the money anymore, and could pass on a few of those turkeys, but apparently you’d be wrong. Still, when Cage connects with a director who can harness his gonzo energy (like Scorsese in Bringing Out the Dead or Herzog in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), he can make it work. He just seems less likely to bother doing so these days.
Somehow (the pronounced dearth of big-paycheck female movie stars? General better judgment among those without the Y chromosome?) there’s only one woman on our list, but she’s got plenty to answer for. Heigl showed promise early on (confession: in spite of an earlier entry on this list, your film editor has always had something of soft spot for Under Siege 2), and was a good foil/ingénue in Knocked Up. But the clout she pulled from that picture’s box office success has led to a run of turkeys that would give Cage chills: 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers, Life as We Know It, New Year’s Eve, and One for the Money, a Sunday DVD marathon from hell, all of them trading in dated gender stereotypes, predictable storylines, and strained romances in a pandering attempt to turn Ms. Heigl in to the next Meg Ryan. It ain’t working, and the proof is in the steadily decreasing box office. Hopefully she’s made some wise investments!
Those are our picks for the cinematic retirement home — what are yours? Let us know in the comments!