Dear Sylvester Stallone

Art & Culture



Dear Sylvester Stallone, 
It's hard to know whether to laugh, cry or applaud at your latest excursion into macho cinema, released this summer – aka Expendables 2. Your durability is matched only by your lack of imagination.
Let's wind back to the early 70s, when, as an eager kid in his early 20s, you took what roles you could get. Starting with The Party at Kitty and Stud's, in which you played the Stud, whose main role is to satisfy women's desires (and men's fantasies). It was a job, so who are we to sneer? But your brief moment as a leading man was soon over, and you made a brief excursion into highbrow, with a role as a thug in Woody Allen's Bananas (threatening the little punk on the subway), and an even smaller uncredited appearance in Klute (a great film that everyone should watch). It looked as though The Lords of Flatbush (starring Henry 'The Fonz' Winkler) might be your big break, but that came to nothing. And so it was that at the age of 30 you came to write the script that changed your life.
Rocky is a film that for reasons I've never understood was not only a huge hit at the time, but is still regarded as a classic. I'm sure you would agree that it amounts to little more than a David vs Goliath story, directed by a guy whose career is pretty short on highlights (Karate Kid 1 and 2?). But various moments – the bleating cry of "Adrian" (a boy's name by the way) at the end of the film, using meat as a punchbag, running around Philadelphia in a grey tracksuit, and above all, that annoying music – combined to make the film an Oscar-winning hit. Bizarre or what?
In any logical world, that would have been your one hit wonder, but this is the era of the sequel, and so a pattern developed, in which you would make two films no one wanted to see, and then there'd be a Rocky sequel. And just when Rocky began to run out of steam, along came Rambo (although the original film was called First Blood). That led to more sequels, and by the end of the 80s, in your mid-40s, you'd clocked up 4 Rockys and 3 Rambos, and a whole bunch of duds that few can recall without recourse to imdb.
The 90s were not a good decade for you. No franchise movies. Two misbegotten attempts at comedy – not your strong suit. A return to action roles (I quite liked Demolition Man), but nothing really grabbed the public's G spot. You even tried acting – a last resort, I guess – and were praised for appearing alongside De Niro and Keitel in Cop Land. You put on weight, played a sad sack, and were – almost by definition – more convincing than usual. But still no hits. The beginning of the 21st Century was worse. A remake of Get Carter, followed by films that barely even made it to video, let alone the cinema. And so you did the only thing you could do. You brought back the franchises; and not just one, but both.
In 2006, we got Rocky Balboa – aka Rocky 6 – and in 2008, we had Rambo – aka Rambo 4, but the original name had never been used. How we laughed. Silly old fool, we said. At the age of 60, he's trying to resurrect his career as a muscleman. It'll be ridiculous. No one wants to see an old man with big muscles. Well, we were right once, and wrong once. It wasridiculous, and people did want to see the old man. So you had the last laugh, and your career was back on track. Now you've got a new franchise – The Expendables, with the next episode coming next month. A whole gang of ageing beefcake parades around carrying big weapons, and it's as much intentional comedy as it is action movie. I can't pretend to like the films, but I have to admire your complete refusal to go away and admit you're past it.
I suppose if the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Keith Richards can go on being rockers into their 70s – when the whole point of rock music was to be young – then if you're willing to keep taking the steroids and doing the gym work, you can still shoot people for a living. I hate to think what your body will look like when you finally jack it in, but that's your problem. And the fact remains that despite (or because of) the most limited range of acting skills in Hollywood over the last 40 years, you are still a star. Strange but true.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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