STONE COLD (1991) Review
Here’s another old review I dug up for the Fourth of July. It’s a little disjointed, but there it is: a love letter to a badly-received action flick that’s become one of my favorites. Massive spoilers ahead.
“You know they say that the Devil was a rebel angel, so they kicked him out of heaven. If you wanna fuck with the living, you gotta learn to fuck with the dead.” – Chains (Lance Henriksen), Stone Cold (1991).
Happy July 4th, folks, and I know everybody everywhere worldwide and offworld are celebrating. Sure, the economy is in the toilet, the country’s gonna decide between a Mormon and an African-American in about five months because we’re all fucking idiots entrapped by a two-party system, and the whole world is laughing at us, but god dammit, this is America. And it’s time for America to do what it does best, even though we’re only marginally good at that, too: kick some ass. Here are some thoughts on one of the greatest action films ever made: Stone motherfucking Cold.
A wise man once said that all you needed to make a good movie was an ex-football player, a wicked mullet, Lance Henriksen, a bunch of greasy bikers, bad language, plenty of boobs, violence, and the use of a state capitol. I wish I could talk about every fucking scene because every fucking scene is awesome. So I guess the best praise I can give this is: watch the fucking movie.
Imagine this. The year is 1991. The 1980s are dead, but there are some who promised us more. Meanwhile, Arnold is at his commercial height with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a blown-up summer-friendly, commercialized version of its darker and more atmospheric predecessor, dominating the box office. But Stone Cold proved that you didn’t need an overly-inflated budget and big Hollywood sheen to create ridiculous entertainment. And while Terminator 2 might have been killing at the box office, Stone Cold was out proving to the world it had the biggest balls.
For fuck’s sake, the movie was originally rated NC-17, and when you see the movie you can certainly see why. The nudity is gratuitous. The language is filthy. The one-liners are Shakespearean. The bikers are greasy. The violence is glorious. And everything is so fucking ridiculous. The bad guys blow up judges, priests, justices, and assault a state capitol building. And they technically win.
In 1989, then football player Brian Bosworth was forced into retirement after receiving news from his doctor that he had the shoulders of a sixty-year old. Now while the general public wondered how the fuck that was possible, Bosworth decided to do the next best thing: become an actor. Of course, someone neglected to mention the fact that to be an actor he needed to fucking act, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. Surely his popularity from the fans of American football would somehow support his career transition.
He turned out to be fucking wrong. But in the process he helped create one of the most beloved of all action movies. Action fans everywhere are in unanimous agreement that Steve Austin is not fit to carry the name Stone Cold, let alone Bosworth’s jockstrap. That is how fucking awesome this movie is. It has all the genre trademarks: one-liners, gratuitous nudity (though I’d argue there’s not enough), plenty of onscreen violence.
And it’s completely gleefully over-the-top insane.
Since I can’t talk about every single second of this orgasmic action movie, I’ve decided to highlight some of the best points, starting with Bosworth’s mullet. Seagal’s got his ponytail, Arnold is Arnold, and Van Damme has his splits. Bosworth has a mullet that could singlehandedly defeat all of them in hair-to-hand combat.
The story basically goes like this: Brian Bosworth plays Joe Huff who’s tasked by the FBI to go undercover (using the alias John Stone) in Mississippi and infiltrate a white supremacist near-anarchist biker gang, led by Chains (Lance Henriksen) and his right-hand man, Ice (William Forsythe). The movie, which starts out insane, ends up spiralling towards a completely balls-to-the-wall climax.
Joe Huff is a relic of the 1980s. He’s big, he’s bad and he doesn’t like following the rules. Plus, his mullet. In fact, the whole movie is pretty much 1980s, with a slight coat of ‘90s paint on it. The movie starts out with the Boz shopping at his local grocery store, emulating another action classic, Cobra, and unwittingly gets caught up in a robbery. He’s on suspension but fuck that, it’s not like he’s ever followed the rules before.
Warning: the following clip contains depictions of graphic violence towards packaged foods.
It’s a thing of brilliance. The crazy ‘80s-style robbers, the classic one-liners (“You got a clean up in aisle four.”), the mullet-y awesomeness, it pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which only gets more insane from here on out.
Alongside Bosworth are two of the greatest actors of all-time: Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe. I don’t know what the fuck happened to Henriksen’s career post-Millennium (which I never really watched) but it’s a damn shame. He plays Chains like it’s who he is, and almost makes you root for him in his fatalistic plan. The guy is so damn good at embodying the people he plays it’s fucking scary (look to Near Dark as another example). Plus, he spends the film sporting different shades, each cooler than the last. As for William Forsythe, they luckily didn’t restrain the guy like they did in The Rock. Forsythe is at his best when he’s most unrestrained. And he’s unrestrained here.
Brian Bosworth approaches his role as if he were himself. Like most American action heroes, he’s a man of few words. While Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe are completely fucking insane, Bosworth is far more, erm, stoic, the way you would imagine an ex-football player to be. Okay, so the guy can’t really act, but so what? We just need a guy who can deliver his one-liners with monotony.
The eerie 1980s-early 1990s clash is something you ought to look forward to. Like the first post-opening credits scene, where he’s wearing ridiculous gym getup and listening to what sounds like Shania Twain or Sheryl Crow (I get them mixed up). He mixes up the greatest breakfast concoction until Arnold would one-up him in End of Days and gives some to his pet lizard. He also kisses his pet lizard. The Boz and the liz. How romantic.
So he’s on suspension for refusing to follow police protocol. You know that action movie cliché where the angry chief takes away our hero’s badge? Hell, they just skipped that shit for this movie. Then the FBI (Richard Gant and Sam McMurray) comes knocking on his door and proposes a deal: infiltrate a dangerous biker gang or face further suspension. These pencil-pushers are obviously too uncool and un-mullet-y to do the job themselves.
The Boz manages to get on Lance’s good side. How? Well, he engages in pretty over-the-top violent behaviour, like beating up thugs in a bar, while Forsythe watches, he takes part in shirtless gladiatorial biker combat, while Lance watches, and blowing up members of the Italian Mafia. But Forsythe remains eternally suspicious of this newcomer, who’s pretty much accepted into the clan right the fuck away.
The biker gang’s plan is not apparent from the outset. At first it just seems like regular biker-gang insanity and drug deals and blowing up Italian people. But it starts to escalate into a plot that’s actually pretty fucking extreme, involving the bikers assaulting the Mississippi Supreme Court to assassinate District Attorney and Mississippian Gubernatorial candidate Brent “The Whip” Whipperton, by any means necessary, including taking it and everybody inside hostage, just to free one of their members who is about to be sentenced to death.
Yeah, you heard that shit right. Man, this is a pretty serious and dark scheme they’ve got going. This shit seems even more extreme when you consider that it could very well happen. Armageddon? Fuck that. An asteroid is about to hit the Earth? Boring. Extreme plot by insane biker gang to destroy a state capitol? Fuck yeah. Hell, this is like some shit you hear going on in Colombia.
The Brotherhood is literally a brotherhood. The gang rides together and they die together. This camaraderie is highlighted many times throughout the film. I think that’s one of the main reasons this film was rated NC-17 originally. We’re meant to sympathize and, to an extent, root for them. Lance is so damn charismatic that if I were a white supremacist biker, I’d probably go along with his schemes, too.
Their plot is so simple-minded, yet nefarious, that it makes other action movies with seemingly bigger stakes look like chicken shit. Even Terminator 2, which was out the same year, seemed like child’s play. You had Arnie hopping on one leg and being told by bratty John Connor that killing people was wrong. Stone Cold, on the other hand, revels in bloodshed, and the bikers’ scheme is approached with such glee that it just seems downright evil but, more than that, real. And it’s fun. The plot is so extreme in its approach, but executed with such unashamed gleefulness, which is why I’m sure this movie was originally NC-17. Its approach is so unlike other action flicks that it amazes me to think about it sometimes.
Their plan to assault the Mississippi Supreme Court and free their comrade, by any and all means necessary, is also pertinent for another reason. It just seems like it was echoing the whole rise of the militia movement in the United States at the time. They might not be full-fledged militia, but they come damn close, and few action movies have as dark and diabolical and in-your-face a plot as Stone Cold. The bikers are almost anarchist and they certainly seem to be anti-government and anti-authority. I don’t think ‘revolutionary’ is the right word to describe them. But they are like a quasi-secessionist movement.
Chains and Ice eventually find out that John Stone’s real name is Joe Huff from an inside source. Ice literally gets iced by the Boz when the former sees the latter conferring with one of the limp-dicked FBI agents. At that point it hardly matters, since the Brotherhood is pretty much geared up for their fatalistic quest. They plan to use the Boz as a living bomb. While Chains manages to get in through the front door of the courthouse by posing as a priest, the rest of the gang infiltrate using a delivery truck. And, yes, that includes their motorcycles.
The Boz manages to escape and crashes into the State Capitol, intent on delivering his own brand of justice. At this point you’ve got a full-on battle going on between the army and the bikers. Also, the bad guys win. Technically. They manage to carry out every objective they set out to do. They get in, assassinate the Supreme Court justices, murder Whipperton in cold blood and cause a momentary period of chaos at the State Capitol. Alas, they don’t get out alive, but I have a feeling that they were resigned to their fate and decided to die fighting; if one Brother dies, they all die. Rarely do the bad guys succeed in their goals in any Hollywood film, and never have they accomplished a scheme this blatantly extreme. Another reason why it was rated NC-17.
Oh yeah, and remember that part in Live Free or Die Hard when McClane crashed a car into a helicopter? Of course you do. It was too fucking ridiculous to forget. It was all CGI and shit and felt totally out of place. There’s a similar scene in Stone Cold, only this time it’s totally awesome. It’s like the rest of the movie was so fucking extreme and its violence so over-the-top that if they decided not to have a motorcycle ram a helicopter, you would have been disappointed.
Warning: the following scene depicts gratuitous violence against a helicopter.
This is one of those films with a pretty dark premise, but it’s still fun. It’s one of those films that you know Hollywood would never consider remaking, since it seems so politically-incorrect, especially post-Oklahoma City bombing and post-9/11. Craig R. Baxley made a nice trilogy of action flicks: Action Jackson (1988), I Come in Peace (1990), and motherfucking Stone Cold (1991). Each was better than the last, and his entire career culminated in this movie. It’s actually a legitimately well-made movie. It’s shot well, and it’s edited superbly. The acting is top notch, especially from the supporting players. And it’s fun. It’s completely insane, politically-incorrect, gratuitous and one-of-a-kind. But most of all it’s unashamed of what it is and it’s unabashed in its approach. We’ll never see another one like this again. Not in my lifetime, anyway.
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- July 4, 2012 / 4:11 am