Wednesday, May 18, 2011

But What About Arnold's Acting Career?

Things were going so well for Arnold Schwarzenegger. His term as California governor over, he was planning to return to acting and his most famous role as the Terminator. Megan Ellison just picked up the rights to the franchise, and there was the chance that Justin Lin would direct. But first, Arnold would appear in Brad Furman's new drama "Cry Macho." Boy, that title sounds appropriate for his situation right now, doesn't it?

The thing about Hollywood is that it is much more forgiving than politics. As a California Democrat, I feel a little annoyed that Schwarzenegger managed to keep his current scandal under wraps for over a decade, since there's every indication that it would have adversely affected his election chances in 2001. If I were Cruz Bustamante - well, I digress. Arnold's politcal career is probably over, but he isn't going to suffer as much fallout from his scandal in Hollywood as Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson did from theirs. The nature of his transgression is more embarrassing than anything else. Though we all sympathize with Maria Shriver, being a womanizer is not likely to have any negative affect on Arnold's working relationships or his image. If he were a romantic lead like Tom Cruise it might be one thing, but Arnold has always been a big action hero, and there's a certain amount of boys-will-be-boys slack that comes with that. I don't agree with it, mind you, but all that really matters for an actor in Hollywood is being able to attract an audience. Arnold hasn't done anything nearly heinous enough to compromise that.

On the other hand, what probably will affect Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to acting is his age. At 63, he's just not the classic muscle man he used to be. This isn't as much of a handicap as it might have been in the past, though. Liam Neeson is in his late fifties and still a credible action hero. Fellow 80s star Sylvester Stallone has been hanging in there too, playing older versions of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. The "Terminator" mythos doesn't really allow for much aging, unfortunately. Unless Schwarzenegger wants to go the "TRON" route and get a motion-capture doppelganger, he's not going to be believable as a killer android anymore. Some have speculated that he might be able to return to the franchise by playing whoever the original 800 Series Terminator was modeled after, but it just wouldn't be the same. And frankly, after "Salvation," I'm not so sure that even Arnold's return would be enough to salvage "Terminator."

My choice for a comeback role for Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been Conan the Barbarian, specifically an older Conan that would have featured in the ambitious, long-simmering "King Conan" project with John Milius. Unfortunately once Arnold became governor, plans for "King Conan," the "True Lies" sequel, and several others died in development hell. Now the "Conan" is getting rebooted with a new film this summer, starring Jason Momoa. In fact, most of Schwarzenegger's old blockbuster series have moved on without him. "Predators" hit the screens last summer with Adrien Brody. "Total Recall" is set to move ahead soon with Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston. Apparently Arnold has been pitched a potential "Running Man" sequel, but that's really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even the rumored "Twins" reunion sounds more dignified.

Besides, it's highly likely that Arnold doesn't want to be an action hero anymore. He did choose a smaller drama as his first starring project since "Terminator 3." I don't know how many dramatic roles are available for a man of his age, stature, and accent, but why not? Arnold has a lot of charm and charisma, and I'd rather see him in smaller character roles instead of trying to slog on as an action star past his prime. I spent a lot of "The Expendables" wincing during Sylvester Stallone's fight scenes, and not in a good way. People may not remember, but Arnold's career in genre films wasn't so hot by the time he ran for governor, after a string of progressively lousier vehicles like "End of Days," "The 6th Day," and "Collateral Damage." Sure, he can come back for another "Terminator" or two, but then what? It's good that he's trying to branch out.

Ultimately I think Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting career will be fine. Despite the scandal, he has plenty of good will and nostalgia on his side for a comeback. He can take a few years off to sort out his personal life or write his memoirs, and it won't affect his bankability. People like him and will continue to like him. I know this because I still retain a lot of fondness for him, even if I think he acted reprehensibly toward his wife, and even if I dislike his politics.

I mean, it's Arnold. Who wouldn't give the greatest movie star of every 80s and 90s kid's childhood another chance?

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