Daily Dose: The year of the team actioner…

The year of the team actioner. RED marks the fourth big budgeted action film featuring an ensemble cast to be released in 2010.

Back in April we saw THE LOSERS, a trashy comic book inspired romp. Led by AVATAR’s Zoe Zaldana, the future Captain America Chris Evans, and starring WATCHMEN’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, THE LOSERS failed to leave much of an impression on viewers. Grossing just over $23 million, the film’s saving grace from a financial perspective was that it did not cost as much as the team flicks that came after. Sadly, the film was very good either, fizzling with critics. My hope was that the script, co-written by Peter Berg (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), would be inventive enough to overcome its comic book limitations. The result was a messy and lazy film that would ordinarily be a direct to dvd offering.

June of this year gave us the hotly anticipated THE A-TEAM. This film was the franchise starter that wasn’t. Boasting a solid cast with A-Lister Liam Neeson and newly minted near A-Lister Bradley Cooper in a script written and helmed by tough guy director Joe Carnahan, THE A-TEAM got little traction in a summer weekend dominated by another 1980s remake THE KARATE KID. The largely critically lauded A-TEAM made money but not nearly enough domestically to cover its $110 million budget. And the film’s failure to catch fire with audiences virtually eliminated future prospects for more A-TEAM films to follow. Sadder still is that effect that this disappointment might have had on director Carnahan’s high concept action projects. A guy who knows how to make gutsy and narratively rich films, Carnahan should rebound nicely with the smaller and cool sounding THE GREY and the high-energy thriller UMBRA.

August saw the return of the unapologetically cheesy throwback 1980s action film–Sylvester Stallone’s THE EXPENDABLES. Opening opposite fan-boy comic adaptation SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, THE EXPENDABLES looked to have an uphill battle as PILGRIM received stellar advanced reviews. But audiences warmed quickly to THE EXPENDABLES leaving PILGRIM out in the cold much to the chagrin of critics who like studio executives saw a sure-fire hit in PILGRIM. The $80 million budgeted EXPENABLES pulled in a sizable $102 million domestically, but made much more elsewhere with a total worldwide gross of $248 million. Certainly, the solid performance of Stallone’s wide return to US theaters can’t be ignored by Hollywood. But no one benefited more than 1980s action star Dolph Lundgren, who knocked fans out wielding a rocket powered grenade launcher in the film’s explosive opening sequence.

With the summer of 2010 now safely in the rear-view, we get RED another comic book inspired movie with an ensemble and eclectic cast. In RED, the 55-year-old Bruce Willis makes action stars out of Oscar winners and older actors Morgan Freeman, who is 73, and Helen Mirren. The always fun John Malkovich joins the group along with WEEDS star Mary Louise Parker. Although no budget figures appear to be available, the A-List cast alone would heft big numbers, but the buzz on the film is high even with critics who collectively have given the film a present 81 percent RottenTomatoes “fresh” rating. Being released on more than 3000 screens domestically and facing little serious competition this weekend (its nearest competitor is the latest JACKASS entry), look for RED to have an impressive opening weekend.

And like THE EXPENDABLES, RED takes advantage of aging audiences hungry for familiar faces representing their active lifestyles. When Stallone took on the comparatively massive and much younger Steve Austin in THE EXPENDABLES, the audience I saw the film with cheered even as Stallone promptly got his ass kicked. RED promises more of this kind of fantasy that only Hollywood can conjure up. And it won’t likely be the last of such team pictures, especially if RED lifts the Fall box office.

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