Tale of the tape: Sly vs. Arnold 2013 edition

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

BY TROY PHILLIPS

No matter how far they may stray, action heroes always return to finish the battles they’ve started; and perhaps deliver a memorable line or two in the process. Apparently, the actors who fill these roles think much the same way.

Yes, I’m talking about Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be making their returns in starring roles on the big screen in Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand, respectively.

Granted, Stallone recently starred, directed and produced The Expendables and its’ sequel, but how can a definitive lead be identified with that kind of cast? Identifying Sly as the star of that movie is like asking people to notice who plays the most minutes in the All-Star game; they’re just looking to watch a barrage of deep threes and alley-oops.

Both men have had exceptional careers in the film industry, but for the sake of time we’re going to leave the past in the past. I’m sure there’s an article out there somewhere comparing Rocky to The Terminator, and if you find it, please send me the link. I’m sure it’s a fascinating read.

But part of any action star’s film legacy is how he fares in his second act, the time when he realizes that the finale is drawing close and tries to make the most out of the last few scenes. It’s hard to guess exactly how close either actor is to closing the curtain for good, but they can’t stay trained under the spotlight forever.

So which actor will be more respected for their first work of 2013? I’ll make a case for and against each of the two action thrillers and the actors who play the lead role.

Bullet to the Head

Plot: A lifelong assassin (Stallone) makes an unlikely choice when he teams up with a detective (Sung Kang) to hunt down the man who killed both of their respective partners (Jason Momoa).
Release Date: February 1st, 2013
The Case For: After watching trailers like this one, the whole “killer vs. killer” angle seems appealing if executed correctly. Not having to worry about an everyday citizen as the protagonist ensures plenty of hard-hitting fight scenes from start-to-finish and gives the villain the skills to set up some great ending sequences. Stallone doesn’t have to stretch out of his comfort zone to play this role; the brazen tough guy mantra suits him just fine. Little changes to the typical action framework like an axe fighting scene gives me hope that this one can distance itself from the pack; no small task in a genre heavy on repetition.
The Case Against: The supporting cast isn’t sparkling as Christian Slater is the only other huge name. The ability of Kang and Stallone to exist as a believable ‘fire and ice’ will determine if the movie can deliver worthwhile dialogue between explosions. Stallone claims at one point that he will, “be done with you (Momoa) when I’m done with this drink.” which, while taken out of context, doesn’t seem cool or original. Hopefully that’s not a bad precursor for the rest of the script.

The Last Stand

Plot: A former big-time cop (Schwarzenegger) looking to settle down as sheriff of a small town realizes he will never truly escape fighting crime when an escaped drug cartel is said to be heading through on a mad dash for the Mexican border.
Release Date: January 18th, 2013
The Case For: The small town dynamic seems like a fresh take on a setting, and also might serve to make the story more believable. Schwarzenegger is better at lightening the mood when needed and it’s likely that he will be allowed to display his full range of skills with the comedic addition of Johnny Knoxville as resident Lewis Dinkum. The incorporation of a drug cartel as the antagonist group should make people feel a very real apprehension and resentment given their presence in current events. As a side note, Forest Whitaker was brought in, yet again, to play an FBI agent. Whitaker has to feel like an actual government employee after playing the role of a federal agent so many times.
The Case Against: The “rag-tag group of misfits led by an experienced professional” angle appears to be present and is extremely well-worn. Arnold may be relied on heavily to carry the script during serious moments with the lack of action stars in support. The movie also carries a mediocre 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed a mere $6.3 million dollars in its’ first week at the box office, well behind the 8.2 million generated by the Wayans brothers’  A Haunted House, which only sports a 7% rating.

Verdict: Stallone wins this battle, as Bullet to the Head seems like the more probable option to succeed at the box office and on the screen. Neither movie seems like an instant classic, but Bullet to the Head won’t do anything to tarnish Sly’s action legacy, while the same cannot be said for Arnold in The Last Stand.

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