One of the most common clichés in action movies is the gag line that follows a killing. And several recent films are continuing this dubious tradition, from Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher” to Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Last Stand” to Jason Statham in “Parker” to Sylvester Stallone in “Bullet to the Head” to Bruce Willis in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
It’s a troubling aspect of action movies because it trivializes the deaths even as it attempts to undercut a murder or self-defense killing. That those killed are most often bad guys of the most vicious kind hardly mitigates the effect, though that would appear to be the intent.
The genesis and continuation of this trend is explored in “Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?” but these current films, all in theaters now, demonstrate that jokey death on the big screen shows no sign of abating — and in fact, the trailers for these films emphasize the stars’ quips over the films’ plots.
The latter four are R-rated films, so adults who attend probably know what they’re in for. But “Jack Reacher” is more troubling as a PG-13 movie that young kids might watch. This one also opens with some very disturbing random killings by a sniper in a mystery that eventually is revealed to be even more sinister than it initially appears. Although one could argue that the title character never seems to enjoy the mayhem around him, some of which he causes, it’s still treated all too lightly, especially in the film’s protracted shoot-out climax, which owes something to westerns of another era.
Cruise’s Reacher is sort of a self-ordained 007. He’s a do-gooder drifter with lethal skills but, of course, he doesn’t really have a license to kill. He just kind of gives himself license to kill, if you get my drift. And at least one of those climactic killings is so cold-blooded, however evil the victim may be, that it arguably thumbs its nose at the judicial system.
Not sure this is the message a PG-13 film should be sending to our teenagers, much less those younger than the rating’s implied age limit. All of whom are the obvious target audience pursued by the movie studio’s marketing department.
An argument could be made that “Jack Reacher” may not reach much of an audience since it did so poorly at the box office that the studio has already announced that, although it was intended to launch a franchise, there will be no sequel.
But in this day of online streaming, video-on-demand, DVD, Blu-ray and other viewing options that follow a theatrical release, its extended shelf life could indeed touch that targeted audience before the film wears out its welcome.
Chris Hicks is the author of Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent's Guide to Movie Ratings, releasing this May.