The Depend-ables: Why Hollywood's Aging Actors Must Evolve or Retire
Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Expendables 2.
The year is 1988, George H.W. Bush is making his run for the White House, and the Russians leave Afganistan. People start buying CDs instead of vinyl. Bobby McFerrin reminds us to not sweat the small stuff. Families are gathered around the TV as the Huxtables lead the ratings, and cineplexes in every city are happy to have Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lungdren, and Arnold Schwarzenneger on screen.
Fast-forward to present day 2012: A rich white dude is vying for the White House, and the Americans have left Afganistan. People are downloading more music than buying CDs, and a not at all happy Gotye is reminding us that he'll just be somebody that we used to know. On television, scripted shows have made way for a series of talent competitions and reality series that are anything but real. And meanwhile, at multiplex movie theaters around the country, crowds are lining up to see Stallone, Van Damme, Lungdren and Schwarzenneger come together on the big screen in The Expendables 2.
Clearly, things have changed a lot.
I don't want to sound like a a cynic or a film snob who turns his nose up at the mainstream fare out of Hollywood. Truth is, as a child of the '80s, I spent a lot of time watching this crew on screen, and I have nothing against good ol' blood-splattering entertainment. After all, I'm an American, and dammit, we love that stuff. Hell, I'm even willing to go along with completely implausible action film cliches -- a group of four guys taking down 30 well-armed bandits within seconds, for example.
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But even with a heightened sense of suspended reasoning, it becomes harder to swallow that make-believe when the majority of these hired guns qualify for social security benefits.
Look, I love old Hollywood. I've shoved my away across a room to meet Elaine Stritch, but wouldn't cross the street to see Angelina Jolie. So this isn't about ageism. It's about reality and perception. People will always think of Sly as Rocky or Rambo, and Arnold will always be The Terminator (or the guy who helped bankrupt California). We like to remember our heroes at their peak, and can't help but wince when they try to extend their day in the sun well into sunset. I can't be the only one opposed to sitting in a movie theater for nearly two hours worried that the heroes are going to break a hip or get winded.
Still, I seem to be in the minority on this. Not only was The Expendables successful to the tune of $274 millions dollars globally, it was popular enough to spawn a sequel that's on its way to being number one at the box office for the second straight week. All I can think is, who's watching it? Are they my 1980s brethren, hoping for another glimpse of our screen idols before they get hauled off to the the glue factory like old thoroughbreds? Or are they kids who just want to see something blown up by old guys with rubbery faces and dyed hair? I mean, can't you just watch Predator on Netflix?
Someone needs to sit down with Stallone (the instigator, originator, and leader of this pack who also co-wrote the script) and tell him: Sly, you're old. If you want to bring the old crew back together, why not aim for a tongue-in-cheek action version of Going in Style instead of an unbelievable version of The Magnificent Seven? With a cast whose youngest member is 50 and oldest is 72, it might be a better idea to not take yourselves so seriously. Sit down, drink your Metamucil, and get a hold of yourself. You weren't that good of an actor when you were running up and down the streets of Philly at 30; what would make you think you could convincingly pull off a mercenary at 66? I'm not saying you're suffering from dementia, man, but you certainly are being delusional.
This is not my way of saying that older actors need to hang up their thespian garb and learn to knit. Some of the greatest contemporary performances on television, stage, and film have come from late in life actors. James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury have had Broadway eating from their hands for the last two years, and they're both over 80. Dame Maggie Smith at 77 is enjoying huge success on TV with Downtown Abbey and in film with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Hell, even Paul McCartney is still packing stadiums at 70. You'll notice that none of them are playing machine gun-wielding septugenarians, though.
I take some solace in knowing that I am not the only one who feels this way. My buddy, the quick witted filmmaker Billy Corben, quipped via Twitter last week, "I was so excited about the Golden Girls movie opening this weekend, then I realized it was The Expendables 2." ;Now, Billy and I often see eye to eye on stuff. But Bill, I knew Bea Arthur. Bea Arthur was a friend of mine. And Sylvester Stallone, sir, is no Bea Arthur.
So as snarky as this may sound, here's a message for the motley crew of former bad-asses: Go home. It's time to hangup the uzis and start sipping the Ovaltine. Look for roles that are closer to your age range, and for scripts whose dialogue doesn't make our skin crawl. Or just watch Matlock. Either way, Governator, I'm asking you nicely : Please, don't be back.
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