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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Losers, Cop Out, and the Value of Good B-Movie

...that's not to say either of these deservedly unsuccessful recent Warner releases fit in that category so close to my heart: the "good B-movie." With the release of Machete this week and the continued success of The Expendables, it felt like as good a time as any to think about what makes a good B-movie and what makes something like The Losers or Cop Out happen to the viewer. The failure of the latter examples stems from, I'm afraid a lack of commitment somewhere down the line to being a B-movie.

In the case of the Losers, it seemed that at some point up the pipe someone decided that a story about a bunch of hardened soldiers out for revenge against the conspirators that ruined their lives needed to be a PG-13 affair. Not so much. If anything, The Losers could have stood to have been a bit more ruthless, pulpy, and downright nasty. Instead, what came to the screen felt scrubbed and sanitized. Not to get too far into comparing source material and adaptation but it felt like all the juice (for lack of a better term) had been drained in the translation. Gone was the nervy paranoia of the Vertigo series by Andy Diggle and Jock as well as the harder edge of the characters. Gone was the nearly silent femme fatale Aisha, only to be replaced by the chatty film counterpart.

I have no objection to talk - it's why I thought I'd give the pretty-much hated Cop Out a chance. I hoped that Smith, who gives good talk in his movies, would deliver the goods in a buddy cop comedy that was a nice homage to the Lethal Weapons of yesteryear. Smith, and really everyone involved, feels under committed here. There's not a single laugh to be had and the action is - well, it'd be kind to call it lackluster. It all seems to be built on familiarity and perhaps the assumption that seeing Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan interacting will be enough to generate comedy cold. Or something, I don't really know what anyone was thinking with this mess. It's pretty terrible and on second thought I'm not sure what I was thinking checking this one out. Maybe it was the choice of a KRS-One cut for the trailer.

Respect to KRS-One. 
With that in mind I thought I'd share some virtues I'd love B-movies to adhere to: 

Don't be ashamed of being shameless. Big emotions, lots of violence, and sex should be judiciously applied, where appropriate. And if aren't ashamed of being shameless...

When looking at some of Cronenberg's early work, or Cameron's*, or even all the way back to Val Lewton, you'll find that none of them were afraid to go big with the elements of their stories. 

Make sure all that emotion, sex, and violence counts. 

The best second-tier entertainments are always about the payoff. Cronenberg, Cameron, and Lewton's movies typically have a hell of a payoff.

Don't be afraid to screw around with your genre. 

I LOVE twists and turns in genre flicks and outright mashups precisely because they bring something unexpected to the table.  

Actually know your genre. REALLY know it.

It's something I'm trying to do with my own writing: increase the breadth and depth of my film knowledge so that when I have something to say about genre it's coming from an informed place. 

*I'd argue that Cameron remains a b-movie director who just happens to excel getting the budgets for his visions. For all the pomp and seriousness of films like Avatar and Titanic they still feel like


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for another incredibly well written article.

  2. Thanks, Reau. I need to come back to the topic when I have a bit more to say (and re-watch a few of the films I've enjoyed that inspired the list).