After watching Stallone in a supporting role in Death Race 2000 I decided I wanted to go back and watch one of his starring roles that I had never seen before. It turns out there is plenty to pick from as I am not nearly as up on the man’s filmography as perhaps I thought. It was a toss-up between this, Assassins, Daylight and Judge Dredd but I ultimately chose The Specialist as I already had a copy of it and it felt like the easiest route.
100 minutes later and I was quite sure any of the other three options would have made a far better choice.
The Specialist clearly was not intended to be a Stallone vehicle as it could hardly even be considered an action movie. Instead it’s a thriller/drama and it’s not particularly effective at being either one of those things. Stallone plays Ray Quick, a bomb expert who specializes (cuz he’s The Specialist you see) in controlled explosions where he can target someone specific with his bomb and not end up hurting any innocent bystanders. He is betrayed by his partner in the opening scene, though his partner is James Woods so really Quick probably should have seen this coming. Years later he is working as a hitman for hire where he agrees to help Sharon Stone murder the three people who were responsible for her parents’ death when she was a little girl (despite one of the actors only being two years older than Stone). Then some more James Woods happens and lots of boring conversations and then maybe a fight or two and a few explosions and it’s all not very interesting.
Again I need to stress that this really isn’t an action movie outside of a few set pieces near the end that can only do so much to help liven up the slog that came before it. They also have a quick fight on a bus early on that has no purpose so I’m guessing it was there to give the false impression that the movie will occasionally be exciting and interesting. Usually though, because the hitman specializes in bombs, it’s all about setting up a stealth situation to blow a guy up without being caught. So you won’t be getting any shoot outs or gun fights. You just get a single explosion and then you move on, with the only modicum of suspense coming from “gosh I wonder if this guy will indeed get blown up”. I will say that the idea of a hitman who uses controlled explosions to take out his targets has the potential to make for an interesting movie as it’s a pretty unique method of taking people out. This is not that movie.
Oh hey, how interested are you in watching a love story between Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone? Not at all interested you say? Nor was I and yet that’s mostly what this movie is. I don’t think it’s going to shock you when I say that the romance is not very believable. All they really do is talk on the phone a few times and the movie seems to think we’re listening to some pretty steamy shit but it’s mostly laughable. There is a pretty hilarious attempt at being sexy where we hear the audio from their phone call where they thinly veil their desire to bone each other, but it’s all being laid over images of Stallone doing tai chi or something without his shirt on, while Stone just smokes and strikes sexy poses in her underwear. I’m not sure why she would be doing this on her own free time, but the movie seems pretty convinced that this is all ridiculously sexy. Sorry movie, your idea of sexy is pretty god damn misguided and hilarious. Oh but yes there is a sex scene between the two of them and yes you do see Stone naked. However you see more of Stallone naked so perhaps don’t get too excited. Besides in a world where Basic instinct exists, there’s no reason to ever fire this up in the quest for Stone nudity.
The best part of the movie is James Woods as Quick’s former partner/the main villain. This dude knows how to go over the top and he is the only person who seems committed to injecting some damn life into the thing. Everything happening around him is so grim and dour and everyone is treating all the silliness so damn seriously that it’s very refreshing when Woods appears and starts chewing all the scenery he can get his hands on. He has all the best lines and the only humerous moments. Any scene with Woods is pretty solid, there just aren’t nearly enough of them and you spend most of your time with brooding downers instead.
The action, as mentioned, is quite sparse. You get the random bus fight in the beginning, which is enjoyable only because I can absolutely relate to wanting to beat the shit out of rude assholes on public transit. There’s also the final sequence which takes place in a warehouse rigged with explosives which once again does help bring things to life a little and while they do blow stuff up pretty well, there’s just nothing that engaging about it. It’s all too little too late. The best moment is probably a part where one of the explosions causes the corner of a house to break off and fall down into the ocean. Obviously this movie is 20 years old at this point (ain’t nobody celebrating this anniversary though) so you can’t expect the most sophisticated special effects, but this sequence is still quite bad for a movie with a decent sized budget for the time. It’s just two guys on a set, pretending to act scared as they “approach” a green screen of some water. Not a great sign when one of the movie’s biggest set piece moments provides one of its bigger unintentional laughs.
The Specialist really only specializes in being a dull slog with a bunch of uninteresting people. There’s about 5 minutes of engaging material, at least outside of the handful of scenes where James Woods just gets to run wild. There is still like 3 weeks left in this marathon though so maybe I will revisit the Stallone movie well at some point, but this was definitely a reminder as to why his star began to rapidly fade in the 90’s.