BH Interview: 'Recoil' Screenwriter Longs for '80s Action Heroes, Bemoans P.C. Restrictions
Hollywood once made its almighty dollar off of the backs of anti-authority men who stood for old school ideas of justice and right and wrong. These men included '80s heroes from Rocky to Rambo to John McClane.
You could say the "conservative" silver screen hero went back all the way to John Wayne's films, but the '80s were where the anti-authority, good triumphs evil, bad men get their just deserves cinema ruled Hollywood.
Today, these films are considered politically incorrect and don't push the kind of in-artistic agendas most Hollywood producers seem interested in pushing. Rocky and Rambo are considered corny and out of date, the Western is all but dead and John McClane is starring in movies where no one is quite sure who he is supposed to be exactly (see: A Good Day to Die Hard).
I recently caught a movie called Recoil out of pure boredom. I did not expect to like a movie that teamed up Steve Austin and Danny Trejo (though I thought there would be some fun to be had), but I was surprised to find a film that was one giant homage to the '80s heroes. The film also bought into the Western mentality of good vs. evil and justice be done that is nowhere near prevalent in Hollywood movies today.
Excited to discover someone not the age of Stallone or Willis or Eastwood still interested in this kind of art, I reached out to the film's screenwriter, Johnny Sullivan. We had a few interesting conversations and one of them follows. He talks about everything from why political correctness is poisoning Hollywood to his own work and interest in '80s films and the "lone hero" movie.
Do you think Hollywood has changed in its attitude towards violence,
authority and good vs. evil on film? Why don't we see films like Die
Movies like Die Hard can still exist, but the problem is that the Die
Hard paradigm has been copied/ripped-off/imitated so many times that is
has diluted the brand. Sometimes a film like Olympus Has Fallen can
kind of capture some of the spirit of [director John] McTiernan's classic, but other
times it usually turns into White House Down--a PC near-parody of the
Another issue is the bad guy question. Who are the bad guys
these days? It's very difficult to find an enemy that A: Hasn't been
used a billion times already or B: Might not be politically correct. In
the '80s--it didn't matter ... Russians, Arabs, drug gangs, South
American militia, China, Japan, etc ... the filmmakers didn't think about
the social or public relations fall-out from possibly demonizing an
ethnicity or religion or even a country.
Now, studios are owned by
companies that are owned by companies and owned by companies. A film
can't alienate an aspect of the audience or court controversy. There
are huge budgets and jobs riding on these films. Movies like Fast
& Furious do quite well because almost every ethnicity is
represented and generally represented positively. It's a marketing
What were some of your favorite films from the '80s?
I grew up on a lot of the typical, popular '80s action films. I
watched Rambo: First Blood Part II pretty regularly. Missing in Action
with Chuck Norris was a favorite of mine. And I liked the sequels to
that one as well. Commando, Cobra, Red Dawn, Kickboxer, Roadhouse,
Total Recall, Black Rain, Invasion USA, American Ninja were all in
regular rotation in my VCR.
There were a lot of great obscure
action-adventure movies that I didn't discover until I started working
at a local video store for four years. Movies like Armed Response,
Bulletproof (with Gary Busey), Eye of the Tiger (also with Busey), The
Perfect Weapon (with Jeff Speakman). I tried to find really rare '80s
action movies, because there was always some hidden talent in them. I
really like this hard-to-find siege movie called Enemy Territory
starring Jan-Michael Vincent. It's probably out of print, along with a
good C. Thomas Howell actioner called Kid. Outside of action, I'm a fan
of some other classics like The Goonies, Critters, Lost Boys, Weird
Science, Real Genius, and Explorers.
Is it a sign that the "Western" mentality action
movie is dying since we see older action stars like Stallone,
Schwarzenegger and others still making them with not many younger, hot
blooded actors trying for that kind of film?
Yes. Westerns (both modern-day and period) are a dying breed,
and really have been for the last 25 years. Occasionally you'll get a
prestige western like Unforgiven, or True Grit, or No Country for Old Men, or
Tombstone slip through the cracks and do well--but the fact is those
movies don't play internationally and that's where the majority of money
I think there's a lot of young talent out
there right now. I like Ryan Gosling, but I feel like he's always gotta
be the coolest, most attractive guy in the room in every movie. Same
with the Hemsworths [Chris and Liam]. I thought that someone like Colin Farrell might be
able to pull off a late-era action hero career but he picks terrible
really only one major actor doing the stuff that Stallone and
Schwarzenegger did back in the day and his name is Liam Neeson. I'd
throw [Jason] Statham in there as well, but he still needs to prove himself as a
box office draw. Keep an eye out for Scott Adkins.
Your movie Recoil is very much a modern day western where there's a good
guy with old school values and a bad guy bringing down innocent people.
Are these kinds of films still in high demand or does Hollywood not
want the next Rambo?
Everyone likes the Lone Hero. My movie Recoil is a good example
of that, as is Homefront, Rambo, Eastwood's westerns, the Die
Hards ... it all goes back to Shane and Stagecoach. John Wayne perfected
that character early on, but really it all goes back to Kurasowa. It's a
timeless narrative. Unfortunately, those movies skew old and have
limited theatrical prospects. Older adults might go see them in the
theater, but the coveted younger audience will wait until VOD or
Blu-ray ... maybe.
The Expendables series is an exception to the
rule ... that franchise has done phenomenally well, and I think the gimmick
of sticking all these action heroes into one film helps give it a hook
beyond 'One guy beating people up'. Stand-alone actioners like Bullet
To The Head, Homefront, The Last Stand, Safe have underperformed. Just
one of these action stars in a movie isn't enough. Escape Plan did very
well internationally, Arnie and Sly haven't lost their luster in the
High demand? No--these type of movies are not in high demand, and I recommend shooting
for a DVD/VOD distribution model if anyone wants to write one.
On the positive side, these movies aren't too expensive to make
(relatively) so a good action script can find a studio home with a low
financial risk. But it has to be really good. You can't write a Van
Damme movie in 2014 and expect it to go to theaters.
Any upcoming movies that Big Hollywood readers would be interested in?
I'm doing a movie with a major Expendable member this summer called
Security, which will be a fun, Assault on Precinct 13 type flick. Our
actor isn't locked yet, but we have a great director and it will be a
nice return to form for this particular action star. My friend Derek
Kolstad wrote a great action movie called John Wick which is a thrilling
revenge movie and stars Keanu Reeves. That should be out this year. Of
course Expendables 3 looks great, I'm excited for Liam Neeson in Non-Stop.
You can follow Johnny Sullivan on twitter here or check out Recoil here.