News Column

Can Arnold Still Anchor a Movie?

Jan. 27, 2013

Carla Meyer, The Sacramento Bee

arnold Schwarzenegger, movie, last stand

Jan. 27--It is still too soon to tell whether Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor elected partly on his movie-star appeal, has a future as a movie star.

"The Last Stand," Schwarzenegger's first star vehicle since 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," took in a dismal $7.2 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, barely cracking the top 10.

The film's failure looks like another indication that Schwarzenegger has fallen out of favor with the public. Schwarzenegger left office in early 2011 with low approval ratings.

He further damaged his reputation a few months later when he admitted he had fathered a now-teenage son during an extramarital affair with his family's housekeeper. His 2012 memoir, "Total Recall," sold poorly despite a publicity blitz.

But for those reveling in the schadenfreude, it's worth noting that Schwarzenegger's poor opening weekend showing must be taken in the context of the movie business before it can be considered a reflection of his overall appeal to filmgoers.

January often is a dumping ground for genre films held over from the year before. Last weekend's movie slate was flooded with actioners, thrillers and crime dramas. It was so flooded that even usual box office winner Mark Wahlberg, a brawny star with youth and a lack of political baggage or love children with household staff, also took a box-office pounding. His crime drama "Broken City" fared better than "Last Stand," but not by much.

A straightforward action film with a tired story and a single big name (Johnny Knoxville and Forest Whitaker play supporting roles), "Last Stand" casts Schwarzenegger as a small-town Arizona sheriff and former L.A. narcotics cop whose quiet life is shattered by a Mexican drug kingpin on a killing spree.

They keep pulling him back in!

In "The Last Stand" Schwarzenegger looks like what he is, a very fit 65-year-old. His receding hairline, springy hair and the lines around his eyes evoke Clint Eastwood, who starred in action and crime films in his 60s.

But Eastwood is a far better actor than Schwarzenegger, who still has trouble getting his mouth and Austrian accent around lines of dialogue that are not catchphrases.

This does not preclude him from further film success. He just needs to go about it the right way. He has the first necessary component: fans. That is, if you go by an informal survey conducted among people waiting last week to see the musical "Rock of Ages" in Sacramento.

Michael Parks and wife Samantha Parks, both 24 and from Rio Linda, said they planned to see "The Last Stand." Schwarzenegger's politics and personal life do not influence them regarding his movies, they said. And his Medicare eligibility does not detract from his action-film eligibility, Samantha Parks said.

"It just makes it kind of funny -- this old, washed-up guy doing action movies."

Tawni Humes, 23 and from Roseville, expressed a similar sentiment.

"Well, Rocky is still doing it," she said, referring to Sylvester Stallone, whose "Bullet to the Head" hits theaters Friday.

The last Schwarzenegger film that Humes and her mother, Nicole Humes, 43, had seen was 2010's "The Expendables," which starred Stallone as an aging mercenary and featured Bruce Willis and other 1980s and '90s action stars. Schwarzenegger had a cameo.

The Parkses said they just watched 2012's "Expendables 2," in which Schwarzenegger had a larger role, on DVD.

The "Expendables" movies, full of one-liners, were considered box-office successes partly because of impressive grosses overseas, where Stallone and Schwarzenegger remain big names.

This brings up a key point regarding the health of Schwarzenegger's movie career. Lighthearted is good. The buddy system is better.

He would do well to keep riding the current senior-ensemble wave of the "Expendables" and "Red" movies. His next film, "The Tomb," out in September and co-starring Stallone, gets it partly right. The prison-set film does not sound funny, but at least he shares the starring load.

And Hollywood is showing great confidence in Schwarzenegger, building forthcoming projects around him such as a planned new "Terminator" film.

Regardless of how he proceeds, some people would not see a Schwarzenegger film if he were the last action hero on Earth. Like Cheryl Ewing, who is in her 60s and lives in Sacramento.

"I don't like what he did to Maria," Ewing said in reference to to Schwarzenegger's estranged wife, Maria Shriver. "And I don't think he's a good actor."

And it's not just him, Ewing said. It's the office he represents.

"I don't think an ex-governor should be in all these movies. He ought to have a bit more class. ... You didn't see Reagan going out there and being in films again." Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter: @CarlaMeyerSB


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