4 Incredibly Stupid Action Movie Clichés

Admittedly, action movies are nothing more than a string of stock scenes, cardboard characters and by-the-numbers set pieces. You’ve got your young gun, the cranky vet on the verge of retirement and the plucky gal. Some preposterous plot involving crooked business deals with some gunplay, car chases and the inevitable “out-running the fireball” finish. We know this going in. But these four clichés are particularly irritating because they don’t make a lick of sense.

1. Endless Horde of Mindless Paramilitary Minions

At some point in most action flicks the hero infiltrates an enemy stronghold or tries to escape the converging forces of a shadowy organization. During these scenes, wave after wave of tactical-gear clad clods begin to appear like roaches, pursuing and firing relentlessly at the good guys. They’re like weeds. Mow ‘em down and even more keep popping up! Are there really that many eager-to-die soldiers of fortune out there to create this unlimited supply of hapless hit squads? Not that they do much “hitting.” These guys are about as accurate as a carnival game water pistol. Shouldn’t a sinister cabal of international bankers be able to afford some shooters that are sharp? Why didn’t they check Angie’s List?

I also wonder how these gun-toting goons find this employment and why they would accept these assignments at all. The classified ad must look something like this: “BE AN EXPENDABLE COG IN BILLIONARE-FUNDED GEO-POLITICAL MACHINATIONS! Highly-trained specialist needed for ultra-secret operation. No outbound calls! Some heavy lifting and heavy artillery. Position may require leaning from helicopter or jet-black BMW to fire weapons indiscriminately, with no knowledge of whom you’re shooting at or why. Ability to drive and crash snowmobiles and speedboats is a plus! Multiple positions available; multiple gunshot wounds inevitable. Possibility of advancement or dying in a fiery explosion. Call 1-800-EVL-GNIUS for more info.”

2. Sleek Aluminum Briefcase

Let’s say you have some vials of a secret mutative contagion that you need to transport. Or perhaps you want to sneak several bricks of cocaine through customs. In either scenario, do you think toting your items around in an attention-grabbing sleek, double-reinforced, pressure-locked, aircraft-grade aluminum briefcase is the best option? Of course not!

And yet in every action movie this is the must-have accessory for the on-the-go antagonist, from the low-level drug mule to the globe-trotting Eurotrash supervillain. So functional. So fashionable. So foolish. Nobody sees the sleek aluminum briefcase and thinks, “Well, he must have some spreadsheets and a ham sandwich in there.” No, they’re saying to themselves, “He must be carrying a pneumatic self-repeating plasma rifle!” Why not just stencil BAD GUY on the side and turn yourself in to airport security? (Unless your briefcase contains a million dollars. Then you’d put a big black dollar sign on it like sacks of money in Scrooge McDuck comics.)

These briefcases are always fitted with a perfectly cut foam core lining so the contents are held snugly in place. Who produces these custom-cut innards, and why aren’t they notifying the Feds when they get an order for foam core in the shape of a disassembled low-orbit satellite disruption device? Red flag, anyone?

So come on, all you movie meanies! Think outside the box. Or in this case, case. How about carrying your contraband in a smelly gym bag? Maybe a toolbox. One of those big ass “Happy Birthday Old Fart” gift bags they sell at Target? Or here’s an idea: just use a beat-up piece of crap piece of luggage like everyone else! That’s how you fly under the radar, hotshot! The point is, just because they call it a “suitcase nuke,” doesn’t mean you have to put it in a freakin’ suitcase!

3. Pointless Red LED Time Bomb Display

The ticking time bomb is the most overused, shopworn element of the action movie genre (with Nic Cage running a close second). Lazy screenwriters are able to get instant suspense and don’t have to bother with pesky plot development or character growth. The time bomb scene is also perfect for padding a movie’s running time, because much like a foul-ridden college b-ball game, 30 seconds on a timer can be dragged out to a good 15-20 minutes. Just bang out a few pages of “Cut the red wire! No wait! Cut the blue wire!” dialogue, add some crosscuts between the hero’s sweaty, furrowed brow and the blinking LED numbers and voila! Your 82-minute direct-to-video schlock becomes 98 minutes of theater-worthy gold!

The problem with all of this is the timer itself. Aside from the easy dramatic tension it creates for the viewer, a time bomb countdown clock serves no practical purpose. Who is it for? Why would the bomb builder/planter need a visual cue indicating the time until detonation? A time bomb is the Ronco Rotisserie of deadly devices – – just set it and forget it! Then you get the hell outta dodge (and hopefully the blast radius). The bomber would never even see or use the LED display! In fact, a savvy terrorist/madman/disgruntled ex-Navy SEAL wouldn’t include a countdown timer at all. Why provide a way for some goody-two-gumshoe to see how much time he has to deactivate your device? Just set your bomb to go boom at the designated time and be done with it.

4. Sexy Female Voice Self-Destruction Alert

The hidden-fortress nestled in the Alps. The remote corporate outpost on Mars. The deep sea laboratory. What do all of these movie buildings have in common? An easily activated self-destruction device! You know the one. Just flip up the cover, press the big red button and instantly klaxons start blaring, lights begin flashing and a pre-recorded voice comes over the PA providing second-by-second updates of the impending explosion. This voice is intended to remind you that you will be very dead very soon unless you make like a candy shop and get the fudge out!

So why is this rather important voiceover work given to former phone-sex operators? If I’m on the verge of being vaporized in less time than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn, I need a voice with a real sense of urgency. Hearing the sultry tones of some breathy babe cooing, “Detonation will occur in 90 seconds,” is not getting me in gear. It’s getting me turned on. This woman with the lovely lilting voice is telling me that I’m about to be charbroiled and instead of heading for the door, I’m wondering what she’s wearing. How can I focus on the upcoming spontaneous combustion when I’m dealing with a spontaneous erection?

If you really want to clear the room, what you need is the deep, resonating voice of a big-boned no-nonsense old Southern black gal saying, “Lookie here, honey! You gots yo’sef ‘bout fiddy seconds to get outta here ‘fore you is blowed to Kindgom Come! You best move yo’ ass, child, cuz’ Lord knows you don’t want me comin’ down there to move it fo’ you!” That’s how you get people hoofing it to the escape pod! TC Mark

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