I was quite horribly ill the day Iron Man released, which is why, despite being a hardcore Marvel Comics fanatic, I couldn't review the film -- or even see it till five days later, while friends raved breathlessly and cruelly dropped me spoiler bits. The film is a blast, of course.
Robert Downey Jr is perfect as Tony Stark, billionaire scientist alcoholic playboy, and while not turning this column into a geeky-comic sounding board (just yet) I'd just like to say it was most refreshing -- especially after last year's Spidey 3 debacle -- to see a superhero film without the now-fashionable angst. Tony Stark gets into a metallic suit he made and kicks badguy-butt without thinking about his dead parents. He riffs with his sarcastic e-butler, Jarvis, instead of listening to British-accented platitudes leading to more brooding in the dark. And that felt so liberating.
There was really no subtext, even though Stark's alcoholism and womanising is far stronger in the comics, and leads him into truly dark superhero ground. In short, Iron Man was a light, cheesy action movie -- albeit elevated to much more simply because of the ideally cast lead actor.
Which brings us, boys and girls, to my point of the week: that each and every one of us really ought to have ONE guilty pleasure all our own. One cheesy Hollywood action movie we are allowed, individually, to unabashedly worship, despite its many hideous flaws, cliches and total lack of believability.
Mine, just in case you were wondering, is Face/Off.
The plot is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Yet there is something constantly lyrical, I feel, about the meticulous way director John Woo orchestrates the film, right from the sepia-toned opening shot of a milkshake straw under Nicolas Cage's prologue-only moustache, down to that famous guns-blazing fight sequence with Gina Gershon clapping a big pair of headphones right over endangered youngling Adam's ears, so the kid witnesses furious blood-spattered gun fu while listening to Over The Rainbow. Wow.
I was sixteen when I first saw the film -- three times in theatres in three days -- and the budding alpha-male in me got all goose-pimpley at the sheer coolth with which Cage's long black overcoat whipped around him as he walked to his private jet seconds before picking up golden guns and shaking a bright yellow box of Chiclets. And this followed immediately by a truly devastating come-on line, strong not just because of its abrupt dryness but by the complete faith that the line cannot be turned down. It can't.
Meanwhile, the Lit student in me was all kicked about having realised why the evil brothers are named Castor and Pollux Troy, and imagining I might have stumbled onto serious subtext. But there is no subtext here, there is just choreography and polish, great acting from both Cage and John Travolta, and, above all, there is the crucial near-perfect symmetry that makes this film work. It is a film hinging only on duality, and once you buy into the flimsy plot conceit, it's impossible to let go, right upto the penultimate sequence where Woo lovingly references his own classic The Killer.
So yeah, I worked on my Cage impression (I can still do the voice pretty okay), got the overcoat, and watched the film every time it was on television. Several years later, a friend's college was screening the film and she hadn't seen it yet. Stunned -- and gratified to have found an acolyte-to-be -- I insisted on watching the film again, and sat in the front row, grinning. She was patient and indulgent right upto the point in the opening credits when Travolta looks through the venetian blinds of his office. "Nick Cassavetes," I mentioned matter-of-factly, and she looked at me puzzled till Nick's name flashed across the screen a second later. Heh.
So I remember every bit of Face/Off. Big bloody deal. I still stand by it being a damn super action movie. Recently, a close friend hated Iron Man, the poor sod, saying it wasn't logical, didn't make sense and wasn't a smart film -- fair points, all -- and he was well and truly flummoxed by the unanimously positive reviews the film got.
The point that escaped him, though, is that a really good action film is one that makes smart people willfully stupid. It's something that makes us want to root for the action, sit at the edge of our seat, high-five buddies, and conjure up what-if scenarios gleefully in our heads. It turns grown men into 12-year-olds, and it epitomises the cinema's power to let us escape into unreality.
And unless I'm much mistaken, the truly great guilty pleasure action movies haven't been around for a while. Which is your favourite? Terminator 2? Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade? First Blood? Lethal Weapon? Top Gun even, with you defiantly denying the obvious homosexual tones? All fun movies, and all significantly more than a decade old. The most recent one that comes to mind right now is the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, thanks to Johnny Depp being plain incredible.
I could be wrong and I hope I am. There could be some really brilliant mainstream movies out there right now, just rippling with cheese and cliche. I just haven't seen one really nice mindless violent-ish film in a really long time, and I really do hope you can recommend something.
Write in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions, or anything at all you want to talk about. A small favour, though: no matter how idiotic you might think the film is, please don't mail me slagging Face/Off. Cheers, see y'all next week.