With this week’s release of the Jean-Claude Van Damme meta-comeback vehicle JCVD, we got to thinking about our favorite has-been action stars, and the highlights and lowlights of their careers.
The former Mr. Olympia became, effectively, the John Wayne of our generation. Hey, the Duke made a few stinkers, too.
High point: The Terminator. As great as T2 was, this was Der Arnold at his most merciless, Teutonic—and quotable. Nearly every line is still used effectively to this day.
Low point: Batman and Robin. Okay, so this one isn’t completely Arnold’s fault, as its stink still remains on nearly every cast member, but unlike in The Terminator, nearly every one of his lines as Mr. Freeze is cringe-worthy. (“Let’s kick some ice”?)
He nearly achieved legitimate-actor status with his breakout project, Rocky, but ultimately settled for big biceps and Browning Automatic Rifles instead.
High point: First Blood. It launched millions of imitators. The new formula suddenly became a chiseled physique first, the ability to act second. And the Pacific Northwest was never used to better effect.
Low point: Get Carter. Stallone never repeated the magic of his masterpiece, but at least most of his attempts were somewhat watchable. Not this one. We dare you to get through 10 minutes before begging for it to stop.
Karate champ-turned-movie and TV star-turned-Republican shill Norris has a capacity for poking fun at himself that’s approaching William Shatner levels.
High point: Before he got a hold of Steven Seagal, The Fugitive director Andrew Davis ran Norris through his paces as a Chicago cop in Code of Silence. That’s a gutsy Chuck on top of a moving el train during the film’s signature chase.
Low point: So many choices! The Delta Force. Walker, Texas Ranger! Total Gym. But we still don’t buy—we will never buy—a rug-chested Norris squaring off against Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon. And for a few moments Chuck even kicks Bruce’s ass. What? No way!
He’s more likely to be in the news these days for his awful blues music, his wonky spirituality or his, er, energy drink. Still, ponytail-era Seagal was a grim, efficient beatdown machine, and even managed to show an emotion or two occasionally.
High point: The 1992 Die-Hard-on-an-aircraft-carrier movie Under Siege is actually a pretty decent thriller, with supporting performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey.
Low point: Any of the numerous obscure cheapies he’s made in recent years.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
JCVD never quite got a firm grasp on the English language, and always had to play a Cajun or a Frenchman or even a French-Canadian to excuse his accent, but for a time he was the king of kicking and punching.
- Review: JCVD(12/11/08)
High point: His 1988 breakthrough Bloodsport is still tops for lean, mean underground-martial-arts-tournament action.
Low point: Teaming up with Dennis Rodman for 1997’s Double Team narrowly beats out playing his own twin in 1991’s Double Impact.
The ex-MIT student/karate champ made a memorable debut as Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV and then descended into a long series of almost uniformly unwatchable action movies.
High point: In I Come in Peace’s final showdown between a white-eyed, blond-wigged alien from outer space and Dolph’s FBI man, we get two great exchanges for the price of one:
Alien (about to kill Dolph): “I win!”
Dolph (about to kill alien instead): “Fuck you, space man.”
Alien (after being impaled on a pipe): “I come in peace …”
Dolph (gun at the ready): “And you go in pieces, asshole …”
Low point: Everything else. But putting him onscreen opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier—both play killer cyborgs—serves only to make Van Damme come off like De Niro and Dolph like Van Damme.
The star of the ’80s American Ninja franchise actually hung around the big screen until the early 2000s (even landing a bit part in Mel Gibson’s Air America) until going off to do, well, something else, presumably.
High point: Admittedly, it’s been a while since we actually saw 1985’s American Ninja, but considering they bothered to make four sequels, it seems a safe assumption that something about it was halfway decent.
Low point: Okay, so we haven’t actually seen 1991’s American Ninja 4. But come on, it’s American Ninja 4 ... how good could it possibly be?