Through a weird confluence of events I saw two Kurt Russell movies on Tuesday. I know quite a few people who are now thinking "My condolences," but I am not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I enjoyed both of them very much.
Since it was a blazingly hot day-before-school-starts, I took the kids to see Russell's latest, Sky High. My friend Walter (predictably) hated it ("jejune in every single measurable category"), but I was happy to be able to go to a movie with my kids that didn't make me wince from the sex or violence, or make me cringe from the embarrassingly stupid writing or horrible acting. Don't get me wrong, Sky High is as predictable as they come, and as "sanitized" as Walter complains about, but you know what? Sometimes a movie like that is exactly what I'm looking for. I think Walter forgets that there is a less-demanding demographic out there that is still worthy of respect. I offer no apologies for my enjoyment of Sky High: it's the equivalent of bubblegum pop music, entirely safe for children and a lot of fun. It is not, obviously, what many people think it could have been, or should have been -- but I enjoyed it as is. My kids did, too.
Russell's role in Sky High, the super hero dad, is perfect for him. He has that all-American vibe going strong here, recycling many 50s sitcom foibles endearingly (at least to me.) And let me also say that the guy is in phenomenal shape. The guy is 54 years old and he's running around in tights -- more of a sculpted suit, actually -- and looking good doing it. (He actually looked better in his street clothes, the suits were intentionally dorky.) It would have been very easy for Russell to sleepwalk through his role here, but he didn't, and the movie is all the better for it. In fact, it's the acting throughout that holds the entire thing together, with Russell anchoring everyone else's performance. They are all just serious enough, without going Over The Top. (OK, maybe Bruce Campbell goes OTT, but that's fine with me because IMO Bruce can do no wrong.)
As a side note, I think I'll be getting my hands on the soundtrack soon, too. Bubbly covers of 80s hits, great music to listen to as I spend my days chauffering.
Moving into an entirely different realm, I caught Miracle again in one of its Starz! channel rotations. This is a perfect hocky movie, but much more than that. I love this movie for its dead-on evocation of the era, the gritty snow everywhere, the horrible plaid polyester pants, the horrendous hair cuts and soup-strainer mustaches. I love the story, I love the fact that it represents only lightly-embroidered truth. I love how it captures the stirring of the American spirit within a depressed people. I realize it's probably interminably dull to non-hockey fans, but to me it is just brilliant from start to finish.
This movie simply would not work without Russell. He is in practically every single scene. He is Herb Brooks. At the end of the movie there is a dedication to Brooks, who died just as principal photography was ending. There is a photo and we immediately recognize the expression, the hairstyle, and the (hideous) outfit -- because we've seen all three on Russell. More than the look, though, is the attitude, the accent, the deliberate way of speaking, the extremely repressed emotions. You can't watch this movie and not come away feeling like you know Herb Brooks. And I can't watch this movie without profound admiration for both Brooks' vision and his determination to succeed.
Brooks was a sort of genius, but I think Russell also is a sort of genius in how completely he submerged himself into the character of Brooks.
Russell has made about a jillion movies, and I've liked a lot of his characters (especially Snake Plisken.) He's one of those always-working actors that I tend to take for granted, until something makes me take notice. It's funny that it took Sky High to make me appreciate how great he was in Miracle.
IMdb shows Russell has a couple more movies en route -- here's hoping they're of a caliber with his last two.