Starting Saturday (June 16) and running all summer, Schwarzenegger/Stallone: The Rise Of Beefcake Cinema explores the big-screen legacy of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, two larger-than-life actors whose action cinema defined a decade - for better or worse.
Their physically imposing, dialogue-light performances in early 80s hits First Blood and The Terminator created a new American action sub-genre: the shoot-'em-up, characterized by at least one scene where our hero picks up a very large weapon and mows down a whole bunch of his enemies.
The Terminator, which opens the series, makes a virtue of Schwarzenegger's limitations as an actor, casting him as a remorseless cyborg assassin on the trail of the unsuspecting Linda Hamilton. James Cameron showed us that the imposing swordsman of Conan The Barbarian (screening July 28) was in fact a perfect killing machine; not only did the movie make sense, but it also provided a context for Schwarzenegger's mechanical line readings.
If Terminator feels like a prototypical Arnold venture, First Blood (June 30) is jarringly subtle and orderly for a Stallone project. The actor plays a traumatized Vietnam vet who snaps when he's mistreated by a bunch of small-town cops. Ted Kotcheff's gritty direction prefigures the flesh-and-flora stylings of Schwarzenegger's 1987 Predator - which, disappointingly, isn't in the series. No sign of Cobra or Red Heat either, which pretty much defined po-faced mayhem under Sly and Arnold.
But we do get Stallone's Demolition Man (August 4), a goofy sci-fi actioner that's held up far better than it has any right to, and Total Recall (August 11), arriving just in time to take Colin Farrell's remake down a peg. Smarts and looks are all well and good, but sometimes you just need a hero who can pick up a bazooka one-handed.