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 Rocky and Rambo are considered corny and out of date, the Western is all but dead and John McClane is starring in movies where no one is quite sure who he is supposed to be exactly (see: A Good Day to Die Hard).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 Hard anymore?

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 subgenre.

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 dream.  

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 is made.  

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 mainstream projects.

There's 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 foreign markets.

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.


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