Something interesting occurred while I was watching the Steven Segal, Steve Austin action flick “Maximum Conviction.” Don’t worry; it didn’t happen in the movie itself.
The interesting occurrence was the realization that they just don’t make action heroes like they used to. As I watched these two old-timers labor through this movie about a raid on a decommissioned, black-site penitentiary I actually became a little nostalgic for a time when explosions were plentiful, arms were snapped with reckless abandon, and victorious one-liners like “No pain, no gain” seemed clever.
The muscle-bound man on a mission who piled the bodies high and took no prisoners was ushered into existence by Schwarzenegger and Stalone in the 1980s. Then the mantle was carried into the 90s by the likes of Segal, Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Mel Gibson.
But look around today and the testosterone-fueled neck-snappers are nowhere to be found. The only guys who even compare are dudes like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who spends most of his time cashing checks from high-concept family comedies, and Vin Diesel, who they wisely won’t let anywhere near a movie that doesn’t have the words “Fast” or “Furious” in the title.
This is not to say that Hollywood isn’t as violent as it used to be; because, man oh man, is it ever. It’s just that our violence has gotten more cartoony and fanciful than the shoot-‘em-up glory days of the 80s and 90s when action movies were much more likely to be summer blockbusters than direct-to-video also-rans.
In fact, if you look at the highest-grossing films from the past 10 years you’ll be hard-pressed to find an action flick that doesn’t involve capes, aliens, hobbits, robots, wizards, or pirates.
And those numbers become practically non-existent if you disregard Neeson, Jason Bourne, and James Bond; none of whom really fit that bulging-bicep blueprint that was so popular 20 years ago.
So what changed? I think we can find some answers in “Maximum Conviction.”
First of all, we’ve seen all this before. One dude or a couple of dudes face long odds against a ruthless, well-armed enemy in order to protect national security, the general population, or a defenseless woman. Ho, hum, yawn.
Next, we just don’t have the actors that are able or willing to headline these movies anymore. The old-school action movies that do trickle out of Hollywood typically just star the old standbys, none of whom are younger than 50.
Austin gets all of his bona fides from pro wrestling and I can’t say that Segal is a shadow of his former self, because, in reality, he is more the shadow of two or three of his former selves.
He’s puffed up to the point I’m pretty sure they had to sew two flak jackets together just to get him into his wardrobe. Segal also should give at least half his take from this movie to the editor who quick-cut all of his fight scenes into quasi-believability. There are no wide-angle shots to be found.
Even though “Maximum Conviction” would have sucked no matter what year it came out in, it does say a lot that this is pretty much the state of the modern action movie.
It’s hard to say if this is merely a down cycle for the genre before it rockets back to popularity or if for the better we as a society are becoming a little kinder and gentler (overall crime statistics have fallen steadily since the 90s).
If “Maximum Conviction” proves anything it is that there is not much drama, innovation or success to be had making these throw-back action flicks. That said if someone were to make a movie about what happens when a gang of thugs gets between Segal and the craft service’s table I’ll be there on opening night to see that bad boy.