In lieu of anything worth reviewing being newly released to theaters, this week’s episode of Escape to The Movies takes a look at the somewhat surprising twin box office failures of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand and Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head, the confluence of which is leading film journalists (and, one assumes, the film industry) to postulate that the “80s Beefcake Action Star” revival that many were assuming was on the way in the wake of Arnold un-retiring and the success of the two Expendables movies might already be dead in the water.
I happen to think that’s jumping the gun a little bit – Stallone generally didn’t star in major hits outside of the Rocky and Rambo franchises, and while Schwarzenegger’s caricature probably has eclipsed his actual persona in the minds of younger audiences, I still think the money is there if and when he opts back into the Terminator series or makes good on that Conan 3 rumor.
Honestly, I wouldn’t really be too broken up if this really was the end for that particular breed of action film and/or action star. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these guys and liked the original 80s and 90s testosterone-fests that made them stars, but it’s entirely possible that that whole scene has really run its course. However, it did get me to thinking about a few of the other genres, sub-genres and types of films that I’d be more than okay seeing take a dirt nap.
“Our Not-So-Difficult Life Is Surprisingly Difficult”
Examples: This is 40, Wanderlust, Eat, Pray, Love
Alright, look, I’m actually not big on the “First World Problems!” meme, aka the hipster version of “Finish your dinner, there are people starving in China!” Yes, thank you, I’m aware that I am part of a class/culture for whom the prospects of winding up genuinely destitute are overall pretty slim. That I would have to fall pretty far and then on downward through every crack in the social safety net to even approach the level of desperation that many poor souls throughout the world live every day. And y’know what? The (mutually acknowledged) fact that I can’t possibly conceive of that level of suffering means that you pointing out that my problems aren’t comparable isn’t going to have any tangible effect on me. It’s not going to make me feel better, it’s not going to give me perspective, it’s not going to shame me into joining the Peace Corps. The only thing it does is help you thread the impressive paradox of simultaneously feeling somehow morally righteous while snark-shaming someone who just told you they were in the midst of a problem.
That having been said, I could really do without any more movies about comfortably upper-class people facing either personal crisis that don’t exactly measure up to, say, not being able to afford health insurance. This is not to say that the well-heeled are inherently unsympathetic protagonists, just that the stakes kind of need to be proportionate if the goal is drama or at least some level of emotional investment on the part of the audience. For example: Bruce Wayne is rich as hell, and if his biggest problems really were his multibillion dollar company not turning a hefty enough profit (as opposed to the senseless murder of his family, obvious psychological issues and multiple evil organizations looking to punch his ticket), nobody would want to watch movies about him.
This, incidentally, is why soap operas and melodramas used to be more interested in focusing on the lives on the wealthy and powerful. Excess looks good onscreen, and the major problems you have to throw at glamorous people in order for the audience to start caring what happens to them offer even more excess – a win-win!
“Lovable Cad Makes Good”
Examples: Good Luck Chuck, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, Just Friends
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Our hero is a preening, cocksure, sex-obsessed jerk. He will spend the majority of the film behaving in a manner that an insecure male audience assumes they too would be able to (read: treating women disposably and yet being rewarded for it) if were they more genetically gifted, only to learn a last-minute lesson as to the error of their ways and make a show of human kindness – amazingly, in a manner that somehow ties back to their earlier negatively-applied skillset.
Yeah. We don’t need any more of these.
I especially find myself wondering exactly who these movies are supposed to be for. The characters they lionize are a dwindling breed of man – existent, but surely not numerous enough to make up a profitable audience base, while the women in said films are usually even more shallow and unlikable. This whole genre has descended in an unbroken line from the classic Michael Caine starrer Alfie, and yet each successive entry has seemed to miss the central point that Alfie’s very existence was ultimately shown to be meaningless and depressing.
“My Huge Family Is Soooo Funny!”
Examples: Every single Tyler Perry movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
A large extended family, typically belonging to some specific regional or ethnic niche, gathers together in one space for either a wedding (if it’s a sentimental comedy), a funeral (if it’s a dark comedy), or possibly a Quinceañera (if they’re going after the Latino audience). Each member of said family is defined by exactly one dominant personality trait, which puts them into either conflict or at least unease with everyone else’s singular trait. Hilarity will ensue, along with more serious asides regarding relatives whose aforementioned singular personality trait are related to something heavy and/or traumatic, until such time as a cacophonous finale wherein the value of family is re-affirmed … “Even though they might drive you cah-RAY-zee sometimes!”
I must have seen this movie 3,000 times by now. I don’t need to see it again.
Look, I understand that there’s a kind of universality at play here – almost everyone can relate to the absurdity of family dynamics, particularly when you throw that “extended” qualifier in there. But, just like not everyone will be enraptured by your family vacation videos, at this point I just don’t think there’s enough daylight between the endless variations of Sassy Grandmas, Wise Grandpas, Lecherous Cousins, Drunk Uncles, Troubled Nieces and Out Of Place Fiancées for us to fit any more even if we did need them … a need which, frankly, I’m dubious about.
“Seemingly Fabulous Upscale Career Woman Still Somehow Incomplete Without A Man”
Examples: Go down to your local theater, there’s probably at least two playing.
Stop. Making. This. Movie. If for no other reason than the world has already had more than enough Katherine Hiegl to last a lifetime.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.