You can be forgiven for never having heard of action hero Frank Sledge – no one else has, either. Allegedly a once megapopular star of such films as Blood Fight 2, Jimbo and Below the Law, he has been consigned to the dustbin of Hollywood history, forgotten by all but a few action film enthusiasts and old acting buddies.
Confessions of an Action Star aims to reverse this lamentable fate by putting Sledge back into the common cultural discussion and restating the importance of his career. As a retrospective that aims to recoup past triumphs and rehabilitate an image destroyed by ambition, drugs and hubris, it is adequate, but is never quite convincing enough to restore Sledge back to the prominence he so richly deserves—or doesn’t, as it turns out. Because of, course, there is no “Frank Sledge”, and there never was.
Wait…what?! How can this be?! This is all a put on? What was the tip off?! Because it all certainly seems on the level, right? There are clips from his films, interviews with Hollywood greats like Eric Roberts, Carrie-Anne Moss and Ernie Hudson, testimonials from hotshot big name directors like Brad Radner and John Hu. Why would these people lie? And the tape does not lie, does it?
I mean, now that they mention it, I do remember seeing Below the Law and Jimbo. Who doesn’t? …. Oh, wait - except it was ABOVE the Law – that was a movie, with Steven Segal. And it was Rambo, right? That was a movie too. And Blood Fight 2, Sledge’s breakthrough film – that was actually Bloodsport, you say? Get out!
The problem with Confessions of an Action Star, as you can tell, is that everything about it is so unimaginatively obvious. Well, that’s not the only problem, nor even its biggest one, but it’s the origin of all its other lamentable facets. It is also painfully unclever, aggressively unfunny, and occasionally unsubtly racist (e.g., an Asian stunt coordinator named Bruce Rhee. Seriously?! Offensive, and offensively lazy.
Also, the yarmulke wearing Asian director John Hu (a phony John Woo, I guess) takes offense to someone else mentioning that “your people” know how to make martial arts films not because he’s Asian, but because he’s Jewish. What?! That doesn’t even make sense, and is still racist on top of it.)
A loose collection of parodic skits of big budget Hollywood action films from the ‘80s and early ‘90s hung on a mockumentary frame, the film is a lumbering trainwreck tiredly belaboring a point that isn’t all that funny to begin with. The redundancy of poking fun at a genre that itself verges on self-parody to begin with seems entirely lost on Sledge mastermind David Leitch (writer and “star”) – it’s not just the lack of necessity that’s damning, it’s that the original films do a better job of making fun of themselves than Leitch can ever hope to.
But then I got to thinking, maybe we are being had here, just not in a way that is immediately apparent. Perhaps Confessions of an Action Star has stolen a march on the audience—perhaps it is actually more clever that it appears, not less. Perhaps what we are watching here is something new, a mock mockumentary, a send up of fake documentaries and genre parody films themselves.
In mocking the mockers, in sending up the send ups, Leitch would be working in such a rarified post-modern atmosphere that I don’t think my feeble, literal minded brain could possibly hope to process it. Oh, the meta-ness of it all!
Alas, all signs point to this not being the case. From the behind the scenes/making-of footage contained on the DVD release, Confessions of an Action Star appears to be nothing more than exactly what it is. And Leitch displays just a thorough lack of imagination in his parodying – he’s even more out of date and groan inducing than the “( ) Movie” franchise (you know, Scary Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc.)—to ever have cooked up something as clever as a fake fake-documentary. When your best gag is a Matrix joke (a musical martial arts techno-dystopian thriller entitled “Computer Generated Environment That Enslave Us”) that is six or seven years too late, it perhaps would be best to allow your film to continue to molder on shelves.
Alas, its release now on DVD, four years after it was made, and anywhere from ten to 25 years past the expiration date of the jokes, is inexplicable enough. What’s even more confounding is the endless parade of actors and actresses playing themselves that were roped into this project. Sure, Eric Roberts and Ernie Hudson may not exactly be above-the-title talent, but they are known names. But then out of nowhere comes Ben Stiller (whose appearance here makes one wonder how much of the similarly unfunny and unimaginative Tropic Thunder he nicked from Leitch), and then Angelina Jolie, and her appearance here, multiple times, sets the mind reeling.
How could this happen? Who is this David Leitch, and what sort of dirt does he have on these big name stars that allowed him to leverage their appearance in his sub-basement-budget pet project? In fact, that would have been a better and more interesting subject for this film: “Who is David Leitch? And what sort of thrall does he hold Hollywood in that he can command such mega-famous A-list talent with a snap of his fingers?”
Answer: David Leitch is in fact a ridiculously prolific stuntman who has worked on many of the biggest films of the last 15 years, which line of work has obviously garnered him a huge network of big name contacts. I guess filling in as the go-to body double for Brad Pitt, among others, will do that. So, there you go. Maybe not so fascinating after all.
Confessions of an Action Star’s release on DVD is accompanied by a 30-minute short film which serves as the warm-up to, and central pitch for, the main film. Made a few years before the main feature, it’s basically the first half hour or so of the subsequent feature film, though with the added appearance of Ben Stiller, who is absent for whatever reason from the final draft. As mentioned, the behind the scenes footage shows what a labor of love the film was for Leitch, which I guess counts for something, despite the final product.