My friend out in Hollywood is at it again. This time, he writes about what's happening to the American macho man as more movies feature foreign muscle instead of USA beef.
By Lars Beckerman
While our country continues to gasp for air in a struggling economy, looking over our collective shoulders to see which industry will be consolidated and/or collapsed next, or merely outsourced in the name of the global free market, look no further than good old Hollywood to learn we may have already outsourced an endangered commodity. One we used to have a monopoly on. Go to your local theatre this weekend or throw a dart at the DVD retail rack and take inventory on box office muscle and you will see what I saw emerging years ago: the Aussies, Brits, Irish and the Scots have now staked their claim on Hollywood machismo.
With the emergence of formidable newcomer Sam Worthington in this summer’s Terminator Salvation here is my current scorecard: British born Christian Bale now grips the steering wheel of two mega-franchise blockbusters, Batman and Terminator, although the latter was stolen by the Australian Worthington’s strong screen breakthrough. This guy’s for real and he’ll be topping the A list of action stars by this time next year. Fellow Australian Hugh Jackman has emerged from the X-Men ensemble as the clear box office favorite and his star now shines brighter than ever with the success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The cerebral Edward Norton may have snatched The Hulk away from Aussie Eric Bana, but Bana surely holds sway on swagger, especially after his impressive villainous turn in the current Star Trek, a film which features breakthrough performances by some unknown American actors, but even then we find Kiwi beefcake Karl Urban cast as the cantankerous ‘Bones,’ nostalgic Yankee television archetype pshaw. Scotish born Gerard Butler was so damn macho in 300 that he’s now green lighted to make bad romantic comedies, but make no mistake, he’s got some high octane “This is Sparta!” cinema coming soon (Gamer) to make the women folk swoon. When Martin Scorsese needed a genuine, sneering bad ass to embody the rough and tumble mean streets of the immigrant-mixed Manhattan Five Corners of the 19th Century, he didn’t dial up Kevin Costner or Jeff Goldblum, he snagged the Irish force of nature Daniel Day-Lewis to play ‘Bill the Butcher’ - and the proof was in the pudding. Fellow Irishman Liam Neeson proved he’s still got gravitas this year with the very entertaining Bronson-esque Taken and is now taking command of The A-Team. Brit Clive Owen is arguably one of the toughest, spit in your eye cool cats working in film today. And then there’s Russell Crowe, yet another Aussie import. Crowe’s roles in 310 to Yuma and Gladiator were the kinds once reserved for the studio’s elite tough guys like Kirk Douglas or John Wayne. Who starred opposite Crowe in the western 310 to Yuma? Answer: Bale. Don’t even get me started on British born dandy Jude Law being cast in the beloved Civil War novel adaptation of Cold Mountain! That one hurt.
Another Australian, the late Heath Ledger won an Oscar last year for his turn as the maniacal Joker. Jack was great in the original Batman (1989) but no Oscar was forthcoming. Looking back on that film it is difficult to comprehend why Michael Keaton was cast. Michael Keaton? Inspired I suppose, but definitely not a very masculine choice. Ted Danson must not have been available. Fast forward to the present decade and the pickings are even slimmer when it comes to plugging in homegrown talent to do the dirty work. Toby Maguire has somehow managed to convince audiences he’s Spiderman, but only because fans of the comic book hero identify with the docile Peter Parker. Matt Damon and Will Smith are obviously huge stars and both have considerable talent, but neither would send you trembling for the exit in a barroom brawl. Robert Downey Jr. proved to be a casting coup in last year’s ultra-entertaining Iron Man, but he’s far from macho (can’t wait to see him as Sherlock Holmes – take that, you limeys!). The great and powerful Spielberg has used his gargantuan leverage to create a movie star built in his own image. Brilliant! While Shia LaBeouf is extremely likeable and has the acting chops to walk that delicate beam between smartass and unlikely hero, he won’t be replacing the bearded guy on those Dos Equis commercials any time soon. “Shia is so tough he once ran naked through an ultimate Frisbee tournament, carrying his iTouch – between his butt cheeks.” See what I mean. Lacks oomph. “He once taught a poodle how to bark – in Yiddish - while texting.”
So what’s going on here? As a society are we turning out manicured metro sexual leading men instead of toothpick chomping, knight in shining armor, five-o’clock shadowed roughnecks? My guess is Crowe and Butler didn’t grow up on play grounds where dodgeball was banned and recycling was not only mandatory but considered heroic. Something tells me Daniel Craig wasn’t given a timeout or set aside for sensitivity training.
Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone all had great runs above the title but time has caught up with each. Go to the second tier of action heroes and the case against U.S. prime beef becomes even stronger. Brendan Fraser, Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are all marketable enough, but rugged they are not. Those three would actually make a pretty dynamic boy band. Note to self. Mega stars Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt all seem perpetually stalled in the maturity department, annually capitalizing on an adolescent appeal. Boyish charm in spades. Smart haircuts and dimples galore. All damn good recyclers.