“GREEDY AND LAZY . . . A SURE FORMULA FOR CAREER FAILURE.”
That’s what Sylvester Stallone tweeted on Tuesday, just after he announced that Harrison Ford was joining his Expendables team for their next adventure, filling the action-icon void left by his onetime Planet Hollywood pal, Bruce Willis. It was impossible not to assume that Stallone was aiming his broadside at Willis, especially when The Hollywood Reporter cited “sources with knowledge of the situation” that claimed that Willis was replaced after he’d demanded $4 million for just four days of filming in Bulgaria.
I’m not Willis’ agent — who declined to comment about the matter — or the president of Willis’ fan club, but publicly calling him “greedy and lazy” on Twitter is not only unprofessional, but inevitably begs some pot/kettle introductions. After all, it’s Stallone who’s spent the last eight years wringing every last dollar out of the 1980s, resurrecting Rambo and Rocky Balboa and creating the Expendables as some charity organization for aging Hollywood muscle-men who are still quick with a gun and a quip. There’s so much winking at the camera in these movies that you’d think Stallone had a neurological disorder. Even his upcoming original projects trade on nostalgia for the films that made him rich and famous. In this fall’s Escape Plan, he tangles with Arnold Schwarzenegger in prison; on Christmas Day, he gets in the ring with Robert De Niro in Grudge Match; and he’s already plotting the next chapter in the Rocky saga, a spinoff about Apollo Creed’s grandson. To all this I say, “Good for Sly.” At 67 years young, he’s still bringing his fastball — even if it’s the cinematic equivalent of Old-Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium.
Willis played along in the first two Expendables films, and I have no doubt he was well compensated for popping up as the smirking CIA op, Mr. Church. He’s not above trading on his action-hero persona either, judging from his appearances in the G.I. Joe sequel, as well as his continued role as John McClane in the Die Hard sequels — both of which, by the way, grossed more than $300 million worldwide. But last year, he also played a futuristic assassin targeted by his younger self in Looper — one of the most twisted sci-fi thrillers in recent years — and the beleaguered and lonely police chief chasing two smitten runaway teens in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Both films received critical accolades and were modest box-office hits. Moreover, Willis shined, digging into complex characters that demanded a soft touch. Neither role made me think he was stuck in “greedy and lazy” mode.
What Willis has done over time that Stallone has resisted is take chances. Back in 1997, Stallone gained weight to play an honest, small-town cop in James Mangold’s Cop Land. It was Oscar bait, for sure; a role intended to demonstrate that, in Rocky-speak, he wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood. And he was great, actually, holding his own with De Niro and Harvey Keitel. His cop is everything his action heroes were not: a chump who has to dig around before finally finding his backbone. But when the Oscars ignored his performance, it’s almost as if Stallone went, “Well, eff it. If they’re not going to recognize me in this, I’ll just go back to the gym and do what I do best.” He hasn’t really tried something brave since.
Stallone’s tweets remind me of Dan Aykroyd’s character in Grosse Pointe Blank. The funnyman played an assassin who wants to unionize his trade, but once John Cusack’s lovesick trigger-man rejects his offer, he angrily does everything in his power to take him down. In the Expendables‘ case, Stallone has recruited a team of action heroes who likely appreciate another opportunity to kick some ass and cash a paycheck while doing it. A defection, however, can only make the leader look weak, so perhaps Stallone is lashing out to slam the door on Willis’ butt on his way out the door.
Either way, it’s uncalled for. I’d prefer the two would settle it like men. You know, like in Grudge Match II, in which De Niro rebounds from his boxing loss to Stallone in Grudge Match and trains an aging Butch Coolidge from Pulp Fiction to take on Stallone’s AARP champ.