Eating dinner whilst preparing to meet my wife at Irving Plaza for the Living Colour reunion show (woo-hoo!), I caught a bit of Charlie's Angels (the movie) on HBO. Laura and I watched Lara Croft: Tomb Raider early last week, and these two movies have caused me to reflect on the state-of-the-art in the action-movie genre. (Sounding pretentious, am I?)
Anyway, these Matrix-like special effects where people leap and swoop and somersault and hover in the air in clear defiance of the laws of physics are really starting to wear on me. I'm just not thrilled by stunts that look impossible. Now, I'm not talking about stunts that make the improbable look possible, which are fine in my book. I'm talking about stunts where the action is obviously accomplished by hanging the actors from wires. There's nothing realistic-looking about someone jumping into the air, hanging there for two seconds longer than physically possible, kicking two assailants in opposite directions, then drifting lightly to the ground. It's an annoying shortcut to thrills, and it doesn't work for this boy.
What I like is seeing a stunt that, while clearly difficult, looks possible and looks hard. There's a reason why it's thrilling when Indiana Jones makes a desperate leap from the top of a moving truck. It's because he looks like he's doing something difficult, and he looks desperate. There's genuine perilbroken bones, blood and guts, deathwaiting below if he doesn't make that leap successfully. On the other hand, when Lara Croft makes a leap, she's clearly so assured and relaxed that she has time to execute an unnecessary somersault in the middle of her crucial leap to safety. Indy Jones would barely make that leap, and we would feel thrilled and relieved when he barely made it. If Lara Croft is so unconcerned about the peril around her that she takes the time to do a somersault in the air, then why should we bother to worry about her safety?
Now, if there's one actor who looks like he's having fun while doing difficult and dangerous stunts, it's Jackie Chan. But the thing is, he looks like he's working hard. He takes obvious joy in the physical exertion, and that joy is infectious. Contrast this with the young ladies flying around on wires in Charlie's Angels, who certainly look like they're having fun, but who make it look like it's fun to fly around on wires, nothing more.