Stone Cold (1991)

Craig R. Baxley

Brian Bosworth - Joe Huff/ John Stone
Lance Henriksen - Chains Cooper
William Forsythe - Ice
Arabella Holzbog - Nancy
Sam McMurray - Lance
Richard Gant - Cunningham

Genre - Action

Running Time - 95 Minutes

When it comes to Hollywood, it’s not rare to see professional athletes attempt their hand at acting. Wrestlers, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista, have managed to transition into a second career that have made them profitable stars. Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal have tried as well to varying success. But American football players have had some success as well. Jim Brown was a big star in the 1970s and 1980s, being a major player in the blaxploitation genre. Same with Fred Williamson, who made a name of himself as being a bad-ass in the blaxploitation and action genres. And as infamous as he is, O.J. Simpson did well as an actor - especially becoming a highlight in THE NAKED GUN trilogy.

But in 1991, Hollywood tried to create a new action star from the football field. Brian “The Boz” Bosworth, a controversial former NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks known for his weird fashion and unpolitical correct way of expressing himself whenever he didn’t get his way, was believed to be the next Stallone, Willis, or even Seagal. As the unofficial finale for his action trilogy, director Craig R. Baxley [1988’s ACTION JACKSON & 1990’s I COME IN PEACE] and Columbia Pictures believed 1991’s STONE COLD would turn Bosworth into box office gold.

The plan backfired, however, as STONE COLD only made $9.1 million with a $25 million budget. The film would later achieve cult status due to cable and home video, but it never made Brian Bosworth the crossover action star he was intended to be. In fact, The Boz was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst New Star. Bosworth would star in more film projects, but STONE COLD remains the pinnacle of his acting career. But is STONE COLD worthy of its cult status? Or did the mainstream public get it right by not making Brian Bosworth a bigger star? 

Tough-as-nails cop Joe Huff (Brian Bosworth) is dealing with a three-week suspension over questionable police methods, even though these methods bring down the bad guys. However, the FBI offers Huff a chance to get back to work early. The federal agents want Huff to go undercover and infiltrate a biker gang called “The Brotherhood” that’s seeking vengeance after a member of the gang has been sentence to a long prison term. Huff wants no part of it, but the FBI threatens him with a much longer suspension without pay if he refuses. That forces Huff to accept the job - changing his identity to “John Stone” and working his way into one of the head positions of “The Brotherhood”. Even though some of the members, including the weary Ice (William Forsythe), don’t trust him, the gang’s crazy and violent leader, Chains Cooper (Lance Henriksen), sees potential in John Stone. This creates tension within The Brotherhood, while risking Stone’s true identity at the same time.

STONE COLD is a film I watched during those wonderful VHS rental days in the early 90s, but without me remembering much about it. Having re-watched it for the first time in decades, I don’t understand how STONE COLD didn’t leave a mark on me more. STONE COLD is one bad-ass action flick with pure action, interesting performances, and just a fun atmosphere that action films today don’t seem to have at all. In an era where CGI and superheroes have become the bread-and-butter of the genre, STONE COLD reminds us of a simpler time where none of that was needed. And the film is all the better for it.

The story is super simple. You have a bad-ass undercover cop. You have villainous bikers. The cop infiltrates the bikers and cause a civil war between them. The cop falls for the bad girl. And then the cop’s identity is revealed, leading to a violent final showdown. There’s nothing more or less than that. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in an action film before, or even since. But for STONE COLD, it works because it knows what it is and plays with what it has. Some may find fault in that, but I don’t mind it.

What STONE COLD really excels at is giving the audience a lot of action. And any action nut would be more than satisfied by what STONE COLD presents for ninety minutes. You get explosions, muscular dudes, explosions, gunfights, explosions, strippers, explosions, motorcycles slamming into cars, explosions, Brian Bosworth in bikini briefs, explosions, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe out-crazing each other, explosions, and a motorcycle flying into a helicopter for a major explosion. Women will enjoy STONE COLD, but it’s obvious this film was made for men to please their testosterone. There’s no frills, no CGI, no thinking about who is good and who is bad - STONE COLD is pure 80s action that was unfortunately released in 1991 when tastes were changing. It’s no-nonsense and doesn’t require you to think. Isn’t that what you want in an action film to begin with?

The direction by Craig R. Baxley elevates STONE COLD’s visual style and presentation. While it’s probably not as good compared to ACTION JACKSON or I COME IN PEACE, Baxley still manages to create a fun atmosphere by shoving the action and violence so far down your throat that you have to just accept it and like it. It’s even more impressive how much STONE COLD works visually, considering that Baxley wasn’t even the film’s original director. Apparently Bruce Malmuth, director of 1981’s NIGHTHAWKS and 1990’s HARD TO KILL was fired for personal issues that started to pour onto the set. Also, an IATSE dispute led to director of photography John R. Leonetti and other crew members to walk off the set. Baxley quickly stepped in and just used a barebones story while adding in action and explosions any chance he got to fill up the runtime. And it totally works for some reason, because STONE COLD is a blast to watch for how dumb it is. I’m sure Malmuth would have done a great job as director, but Baxley directed the simplest film he could with the budget he was given, creating a cult classic in the process. It flows incredibly well. The action scenes are shot professionally. The film is never boring and maintains a consistent tone. You’d never think this film was shot within 4 weeks.

The acting is STONE COLD won’t win any major awards, but it does what it needs to do to tell its story. I’ve seen people complain about Brian Bosworth and how his performance proved why he didn’t become a bigger star. But I don’t think The Boz is terrible at all in the role of Joe Huff/ John Stone. Sure, he doesn’t display a ton of charisma like other famous action stars. And he doesn’t have the acting chops like some others. But for the role he’s been given, Bosworth does a fine job. He comes across as a cool guy who is easy to believe could kick some ass. He has a great on-screen presence, especially with his good looks, muscular frame, and awesome mullet.  And as an actual biker, he feels legit when it comes to riding and fitting in with other bikers. I think he deserved to star in other action vehicles. It’s a shame STONE COLD did poorly, especially when it wasn’t his fault. And even though The Boz works as our anti-hero, the villains steal the spotlight. Lance Henriksen sounds like an odd choice to play a crazy biker leader named Chains Cooper. But he’s a great character actor, and he proves that in STONE COLD. Dude is convincing as a biker and as a priest in the final act, chewing the scenery and playing subtle insanity quite convincingly. I don’t think Bosworth’s acting would have been as good as it was if it wasn’t for Henriksen pushing him to be a decent film adversary. Add in William Forsythe as Ice, you have a great trifecta of characters working against each other. Forsythe plays Ice as someone sinister, intelligent, yet reckless to a fault. Henriksen and Forsythe try to out-do each other in every scene they share together, and it’s wonderful. It’s even more impressive when you realize Forsythe was filming another film [OUT FOR JUSTICE with Steven Seagal] at the same time, going in-between sets to act in both. I thought he was great as usual. Arabella Holzbog is convincing as Chains’ and Stone’s main squeeze, Nancy. And Sam McMurray always clinches the supporting role as FBI agent, Lance. I don’t know what some expecting from the acting here. It’s an action film called STONE COLD - everyone played their roles well.

STONE COLD’s biggest fault is probably its screenplay. I don’t think it’s terrible, but it’s a pretty generic action movie template presented here. STONE COLD doesn’t bring anything new to the table. You get the cop who hates authority. You get a crazy villain with an insane plan. You get the hero stealing the villain’s girl. You get the hero breaking up the villain’s group for a while before his cover his blown. And you get a happy ending at the end. You can watch countless other action films that follow this to a tee. Don’t fix what’s broken applies to STONE COLD. However, I can see why some folks may have issue with that.

Yes, the characters could have been fleshed out more. In fact, Joe Huff’s character was supposed to have a wife, sister, and kid before Craig R. Baxley came in to replace the crew that had left. Those scenes were cut for budgetary reasons, with Baxley feeling a more simple approach would work better. I think it would have added something if we knew more about Huff’s backstory other than the typical “bad-ass cop” thing he had going on. Plus, why did he always go after bikers and had a record of capturing the most? And why didn’t The Brotherhood not realize who Huff was sooner? 

Also, nothing beats COBRA when it comes to a supermarket shootout in an action film. That opening scene in that 1986 film is iconic. STONE COLD apes it and does it well enough, but it just reminded me of a better film [no offense, STONE COLD fans]. It’s a good intro to Huff’s character, but I think it was too similar and probably made the film feel like a copycat.

STONE COLD isn’t the most original action film out there, but it’s definitely one of most fun. This is definitely a beer and popcorn movie that the action genre fans will absolutely love. The film never lets up, with something happening in every scene - whether it’s Brian Bosworth looking cool while rocking that mullet, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe trying to see who can ham it up more, or just insane action sequences that will pump the blood in your veins. STONE COLD was unfortunately a box office bomb and it stopped The Boz’s action career from taking off at the time. But it deserves its cult status and is worthy of entering the Macho Hall of Fame. When it comes to STONE COLD, it’s better to be first in Hell than last in Heaven.

3.5 Howls Outta 4

1 comment:

  1. Man I loved this movie! First watched in the theatre and rented it many times after. I still need to pick up the new Blu that just came out. And I agree its too bad Boz did not take off he was per gold in this one.


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