Stone Cold (1991) (part 1 of 2)
Note from the author: After a long delay, this is the second in my series of tributes to cheesy action movies of the ’80s and early ’90s, the first being Action Jackson. Rather than in-depth recaps or straightforward reviews, these will contain a brief synopsis followed by a longer list of highlights, notes, and observations—and maybe a video clip or two.
In the field of Bad Action Movie Studies, one can usually find a few traits that separate the cream of the crap from the films that are merely mundane in their badness. These traits include, but are not limited to: blatantly obnoxious machismo, hilariously superfluous female characters, one (and only one) good performance (typically from the actor playing the main villain), bone-crunching violence, strange homoerotic undertones, and mind-numbing stupidity.
Sure, when it comes to action movies, we’re talking about a genre aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator, but every once in a while a film comes along that transcends the genre and becomes a classic. But Al already covered Road House, so this time around, I’m going to put some hairspray on the mullet, hop on my Harley, and take a look at Stone Cold, directed by Craig R. Baxley, who coincidentally enough also helmed Action Jackson.
Much like Steven Seagal’s direct-to-DVD Submerged, there’s a subtle brilliance to the awfulness of this movie. Starring ex-football player Brian Bosworth (strike one), 1991’s Stone Cold represents one of the last gasps for the Big ’80s Action Movie. This style of over the top, “so bad it’s great” moviemaking stuck around until roughly the early ’90s, after which it was completely replaced by bad action films that were just plain bad.
Before we continue, a little background on Mr. Bosworth is in order. Born in Oklahoma City, he excelled at football in college, where he became a top linebacker, famous for his brash and outrageous behavior. This continued into the NFL, where he had a mediocre couple of seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, the most memorable moment being when Bo Jackson dragged him across the field on national television while scoring a touchdown. His pro career ended after three seasons, at which point he turned to acting, with our current subject being his debut.
Here, Bosworth plays Joe Huff, a Biloxi cop who’s asked by the FBI to go undercover and take down a ruthless gang of neo-Nazi bikers known as the Brotherhood. Because if there’s one thing that was in abundance in the ’80s, it was neo-Nazis and biker gangs. The Brotherhood is led by a guy named Chains (Lance Henriksen, in a truly memorable performance).
The typical loner cop, Huff goes undercover in a rather roundabout way. He plays everything non-committal (though, that could just be Bosworth’s wooden performance) and for some reason, this gets him into the group.
The film is actually pretty bog standard in execution. Huff tries to get Chains’ girlfriend to flip on him. Her name is Nancy, but we don’t learn that until very late into the film (coincidentally, the actress is a dead ringer for skater Nancy Kerrigan). Meanwhile, there’s the one obligatory gang member who doesn’t trust Huff (played by William Forsythe, doing his usual tough guy routine), and another biker who doesn’t have his heart in it like the others do.
On the other side of the law, we have Huff’s partner Lance (played by Sam McMurray, best known as a player on The Tracey Ullman Show), the standard dorky partner who comes through in the end—but still remains a dork, unfortunately.
Alas, this film has no angry police chief and/or staff sergeant to constantly bust Huff’s balls for not doing things by the book. The closest we get is Richard Gant as Dorky Partner’s superior, who seems to have serious commitment issues when it comes to undercover operations.
The film throws a few curves in the last twenty minutes, with some good action and several unintentional laughs throughout. But in the end, it’s a pretty bad movie with a stilted lead performance, a predictable story, and an auto-pilot pace that’s mostly livened up by Lance Henriksen chewing up all the scenery.
I’d also like to note the amusing DVD cover, which makes our redneck biker film look like a political thriller.
I give it 7 out of 10 Epic Mullets. Let’s take a look.
1. Like any self-respecting B-movie, we jump right into the action with a grocery store holdup. And lo and behold, our mullet sporting hero just happens to be shopping at the time. The film takes a page from the Cobra Guide to Grocery Store Robberies by having one of the robbers blow away a display of food—in this case, Ritz Crackers. I guess that’s what separates the A films from the B films. Got Stallone? Pepsi and Coors are at your beck and call. Got a washout ex-football player with a crap reputation? You have to settle for a company that makes several different variations on the same crackers, only in slightly different boxes.
2. Our first look at our hero is truly a sight to behold. Decked out in a leather jacket that looks like Darth Vader’s leisure suit, Bosworth appears tough enough, but good god, take a look at that mullet! Christ, that thing makes Swayze’s do in Road House look like a crew cut! I’m convinced the only reason mullets became slightly trendy was because most of the guys who had them would kick your teeth in if you ever made fun of them.
3. The best part of this scene is how Huff actually shops around a bit before noticing anything is wrong. Yep, the meathead manages not to notice the armed men, the hostages, and the sound of automatic gunfire. To be fair though, he manages to take out all three robbers while barely breaking a sweat, including one guy who somehow slips on some liquid and launches himself into a display of Coke cans.
4. Okay, I lied. The best part of this scene is when the head robber takes a hostage, and it’s a girl with braces attached to headgear. The girl is Renée O’Connor, who went on to play Gabrielle on Xena: Warrior Princess. The lead robber calls her “Tinselteeth”, and that’s exactly how she’s listed in the closing credits. I wonder how long it took Renée to live down this role, if, in fact, she ever lived it down.
5. The scene ends when the cops show up, and Huff delivers the legendary line, “You’ve got a cleanup on Aisle 4.”
6. Our opening credits play out over a biker rally, where bikers engage in fun activities like beating the holy hell out of each other, and shooting beer cans off each other’s shoulders. It’s here that William Forsythe is introduced, playing Ice. Yes, “Ice”. All the bikers in this film sound like rejects from American Gladiators.
7. Ice makes a special impression here. Whereas the other guys shooting at beer cans are using pistols, Ice uses a machine gun to blow the can off his friend’s shoulder. He then proceeds to keep shooting until a nearby green VW Bug goes up in a nice fireball. Now that’s how you introduce a villain! Granted, it’s so over the top that it makes it hard to take the guy seriously, but the same can be said for the rest of film, so really, who’s complaining?
8. Also during the credits is the setup for the film’s rather thin plot. A bald biker guy storms into a church and interrupts a baby’s baptism. He quickly reveals a sawed-off shotgun, which he uses to blow the minister through a stained glass window. Yep, these guys are evil, alright. (Not to mention, they seem to be possessed of special magical bullets that cause people to fly several feet through the air when shot.)
9. Cut to a courtroom, where the bald biker is sentenced to 45 years in prison. A little later, we see the judge at home, climbing into his motorboat, about to enjoy a pleasant afternoon of fishing. Unfortunately, they’ll soon be fishing little bits of him out of the lake, because his boat immediately gets blown sky-high by explosives. Our buddy Ice is there to laugh maniacally at the carnage.
10. To clarify what just happened, we get a newspaper headline about a judge being murdered. Wait, you mean, when the judge’s boat went up in a massive explosion, that killed him? And that was murder, you say?
11. Our hero Joe Huff reads the newspaper over breakfast, while wearing maybe the least intimidating outfit an action hero could possibly wear. He has on a crappy white t-shirt, a matching headband, and black and white camouflage sweatpants. Jesus, and people rag on ’80s fashion? I’m amazed that the early ’90s didn’t make people say to hell with clothes altogether.
12. Over a bad rock song, Joe puts the following ingredients into a blender: A splash of orange juice, Snickers bars, potato chips, a banana, raw eggs (including the shells [!]) and Tabasco sauce. He blends it together and feeds it to maybe the greatest pet an action hero could have. Forget Sonny Crockett and his pet gator (Actually, don’t. The filmmakers sure as hell didn’t): Joe Huff’s best friend is a huge monitor lizard named Fido. The bonding between man and lizard is interrupted by FBI agents, and we actually get a reaction shot from the lizard before moving on to the next scene.
13. It turns out the FBI agents want Huff to go undercover to infiltrate the biker gang run by Chains Cooper (Henriksen). After the usual sales pitch, Joe is assigned a dweeby hypochondriac partner named Lance (Sam McMurray).
14. Lance drops by Joe’s apartment early the next morning. Here we learn Joe sees nothing wrong with answering the front door while almost completely naked. He’s wearing nothing but a Speedo as he talks to his partner, and see what I mean about the weird homoeroticism on display?
15. Oh, but look: There’s a naked woman in Joe’s bed! He’s not gay, after all. Whew. This bit of gratuitous nudity accomplished, we’re off and running.
16. Then comes even more gratuitous nudity as we transition to a strip club, hilariously called the “Tit for Tat”. Skanky women dance to crappy ’90s rock (the early ’90s were truly the beginning of the end for rock music, as far as I’m concerned). Here, Huff begins to get in with the Brotherhood. Oddly enough, this involves going up to Ice and pissing him off, and then assisting in a barroom brawl that just happens to break out shortly thereafter. Ice blows him off, but Ice’s pal “Gut” (another Gladiator name) invites Huff to come hang out with the Brotherhood that weekend. Joe acts aloof and non-committal for the most part, though this could be just be a rookie actor’s attempt at being “cool”.
17. Another amusing bit in this scene is when Huff remarks to Lance that he doesn’t know how to get into the gang, even though we know that Huff has done this before, and is pretty good at it. I mean, it’s the reason the FBI sought him out in the first place. Still, it does do a bit to explain his rather odd technique of making friends.
18. I also want to highlight the character of Gut. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be slightly brain damaged, but he sure comes off that way. Eventually, he becomes “the guy who loses his nerve at the end, and dies for being a buddy to the hero”.
19. At another biker rally, Huff fights in a pit with a random bodybuilder guy. Despite this being a major, choreographed fight that goes on forever, it ultimately has no impact on the plot, because we have no idea who this guy is, and we never see him again.
20. The next scene introduces us to the highlight of the film: Lance Henriksen as Chains. It’s a real showstopper of a performance, as Henriksen pulls out all the stops, grinning like a Cheshire cat and laughing like a nut. He also manages to be quite creepy in his overall demeanor, a tribute to the talent of an actor who can still do good work despite the quality of the films he generally appears in. Chains offers his girlfriend to Huff—the Nancy Kerrigan lookalike—but Huff is too much of a Good Guy™ to accept a free lay.
21. The Brotherhood’s initiation of Huff (who’s now using the alias “John Stone”, just so the movie’s title can make sense) brings us to the main plot, what little there is. Basically, the gang is going to kill the DA from the opening credits, the one who got their buddy sentenced to 45 years for killing a priest. How this will help the guy in prison, I have no idea.
22. The DA is a rather verbose man named Whipperton. We’re treated to a clip of him on TV talking about seeking the death penalty on appeal, and he comes off almost as unstable as the bad guys. Seriously, it might be the accent, or the inflection the actor uses, but goddamn, I wouldn’t want to be a defendant in one of his cases. I’d take one look at him and say, “Screw it judge, I’m guilty!”
23. At a gang hideout, Chains gets Huff to put on a bulletproof vest, and then shoots Huff to test it out. (Naturally, Huff goes flying several feet through the air.) A pissed-off Huff attacks Chains, but the other bikers pull them apart.
24. I guess they’ve screwed around with Huff long enough, because Chains says he can join the gang. However, if Huff ever goes down in a fight, “I will peel your skin off with a knife dipped in shit.” Henriksen gets a few real good lines here. My personal favorite comes towards the end of the movie, but I’m also fond of a line that comes up in a few minutes: “Better to be first in hell than second in heaven!”
25. To prove himself, Huff is sent to Pensacola to cut off the ear of a man who pissed off the gang. And we get to watch every last second of Huff’s motorcycle ride to Pensacola, because they’ve turned it into a music video for some crap rock song on the soundtrack.
26. Huff trails the man to a bar, and we get a truly funny shot of Huff wearing, essentially, Steven Seagal’s go-to outfit of an all-black ensemble… and it actually looks better on Bosworth than it does on Seagal! Even with his mullet-zilla. It’s gotta be the hair. See a guy with a ponytail dressed like that? He might be ready to kick ass, or he might be ready to recite poetry about how his soul aches, and how the blood pumped by his heart serves as his tears. See a guy dressed like that sporting a mullet the size of Wisconsin? He’s there to kick ass, end of story.