Monday, April 05, 2010

The Essence of Badassery

Let me start out by saying that I'm not terribly interested in the above film. It looks to be a forgettable A-Team ripoff chock full of a painful, forced jocularity not seen since Smokin' Aces. I will not be seeing it in the theater.

But I'll definitely rent it, and there's at least one thing about The Losers that genuinely excites me: it looks like Jeffrey Dean Morgan is bringing back the old school movie badass.

There was a time, before the bulging, greasy pecs of Swarzenegger and the show-offy ninja moves of Van Damme turned action films into thinly veiled gay porn, when all you needed to be an action hero was the ability to convince audiences that you could fuck somebody up if the occasion called for it. Not because he was physically strong or adept at martial arts, but because he possessed the will, the essence, of the badass. Guys like Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen weren't particularly muscular, and I doubt any of them could execute a spin-kick to save their lives, but nobody doubted that, if roused to anger, they could pull your spine out of your nostril and floss with it. In short, the fuckers could ACT. They weren't master thespians, but within a very narrow range of characters, they could convey confidence, menace, and a supreme comfort with violence with just a hooded glare or a crooked smile. By the mid-80s, action stars didn't have to possess charisma or even a thorough command of the English language. They proved their badassitude with rippling muscles and/or martial art chops: guys like Stallone and Seagal and Dolph Lundgren were really just glorified stunt men. They didn't convey a character, they were simply bodies in motion. This made for some memorable action scenes, but not much in the way of memorable action characters. Worst of all, these inarticulate man-slabs guaranteed that all the non-fighty scenes in these movies (and even the most action-heavy film is at least 50% talking) were flat, mumbly stretches of dead air.

This brings us to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is definitely a big dude, but as the trailer indicates, not a former Mr. Universe. He's also got the sort of brick-shithouse body that pretty much preclude any of that Oriental chop socky tomfoolery. The only way he's going to sell being the head of a renegade Special Forces unit, besides shooting a bunch of dudes, is by embodying the badass. Judging from the trailer, I'm optimistic about his chances: he's got the grizzled, world-weary air and rumpled sport coat of Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Here's hoping he, along with Jason Statham, can help usher in a new era of essential badasses.