Strictly Bozness: The Fiery Majesty of STONE COLD

Another one from the Vern Vault: I have written about STONE COLD many times, but this was the only time I thought to title it STRICTLY BOZNESS. Originally posted October 15, 2015 on One Perfect Shot.


There is a certain type of action movie I love where it’s more important to be awesome than grounded; where the knowing use of cliches, absurd physics and extreme exaggeration are part of the agreement between the film and the audience. These are movies that are almost impossible to truly make fun of, because their ridiculousness is not a drawback, even when it’s an accident. They make you laugh but you’d be lying if you said you were only enjoying them ironically. Classics of this type include Schwarzenegger’s COMMANDO, Van Damme’s HARD TARGET and Seagal’s HARD TO KILL.

Those are lowbrow movies that are justly acknowledged as classics in the right circles, but I come to speak to you of a slightly more disreputable one, a poorly reviewed box office flop starring a controversial ex-NFL player. When Brian Bosworth was drafted to the Seattle Seahawks in 1987 he had a contract that was the biggest for any player ever on the team as well as the biggest for a rookie in the history of the NFL. He quickly became hated by other teams for his public trash talking and beloved by Seattle children for his audacious hairstyle and cartoonish persona. Then he was injured, retired after two seasons and decided to become a movie star.

Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley felt spurned by the Boz’s turn, writing at the time, “To call STONE COLD garbage is to give garbage a bad name. . . . Do yourself a favor. Don’t buy Boz’s baloney. Don’t go to this movie. Don’t fall for the Bosworth pitch. He is as much a fraud on the big screen as he was on the gridiron.”

Kelley got his wish. “The Bosworth pitch” fell on deaf ears. Though the Boz is still acting, all of his subsequent starring vehicles were low budget direct-to-video obscurities. His consolation prize: sports columnists back then didn’t know shit about action movies, and to this day there is nothing like STONE COLD. I think it rivals ROAD HOUSE as one of the best macho movies full of absurdity too crazy not to laugh at but too perfect to be an accident. It’s one of my favorites.

Like Mr. T before him and Dennis Rodman after him, Bosworth had created his own freaky style that made him iconic. “Boz cuts” (bleach blond flat top mullets with designs shaved and sometimes painted in the side) were a fad in Seattle, and his taste in flamboyant jackets and patterned pants was more like the WWF than the real world. In STONE COLD he’s introduced with an eccentric lifestyle where he makes smoothies for a pet monitor lizard name Fido and walks around the house in bikini underpants. One of his jackets has a strip of white fur hanging over the shoulder that acts as the mohawk to a painted-on skull.

Yet underneath the show-offy flair is a square-jawed leading man who co-stars would compare to John Wayne and who in later years would bring a good old fashioned presence to B (and lower) grade movies like Kurt Wimmer’s ONE MAN’S JUSTICE and Fred Olen Ray’s MACH 2.

Bosworth’s character Joe Huff, alias John Stone, is a suspended cop forced to go undercover in a biker gang called The Brotherhood. These guys are expanding their drug trade and have threatened to assassinate the D.A. who’s trying to get the death penalty for a member who got busted for killing a priest. Stone is the only guy the FBI knows of who can hang with them.

A good action hero needs a worthy adversary, and for his maiden voyage Bosworth receives a one-two punch of top shelf villainy. First we meet Ice, played with spiteful, mad dog abandon by William Forsythe (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, OUT FOR JUSTICE). Stone gets his attention by insulting him in a bar, beating up some guys for him, defeating him in a motorcycle race, and winning a bare knuckle fight at his rally. They do not become friends. But it’s enough to pique the curiosity of Brotherhood leader Chains, played by the great Lance Henriksen (HARD TARGET), who gambles on him as a henchman, saying he’s “either gonna be the biggest pork chop I ever ate, or my bulldozer.”

According to the book Not Bad For a Human by Lance Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey, Chains was originally written to be constantly quoting the Bible, but Henriksen convinced director Craig Baxley to allow him to improvise the entire role. Though he’s appeared in acclaimed movies from DOG DAY AFTERNOON to ALIENS, Henriksen considers Chains to be one of his best roles.

But just as much as the larger-than-life characters and performances I believe it’s Baxley’s energy and deliberate lack of restraint in the staging of action that makes STONE COLD special. Brought in to replace original director Bruce Malmuth (HARD TO KILL, PENTATHLON), Baxley’s resume boasted not only of ACTION JACKSON and I COME IN PEACE, but a lifetime in the family business of stuntwork. He was stunt coordinator for THE WARRIORS and 2nd unit director for PREDATOR, among other heroic deeds.

Here he delivers on that background big time. Small bits of action are precision-tuned for maximum impact. When the priest is shot during the opening credits he’s propelled backwards through a stained-glass window, revealing for a moment an audience of bikers sitting patiently outside to enjoy the show. When Stone tricks a grocery store robber into slipping on a puddle of vegetable oil the poor sucker slams into a canned food display like he was fired out of a cannon, and Stone is posed casually to the side like Bugs Bunny might do in a similar situation.

This is One. Perfect. Shot of course, but like all great movies, this has more than one perfect shot. If I were to choose a single sequence that best sums up the STONE COLD vibe it would have to be the one where Stone shoots a biker who’s commanded to “take the fucker out” by driving straight at him in the marble halls of the Mississippi State Capitol (long story). The rider drops dead, the bike glides past Stone, crashes out a window, launches through the air into a helicopter driven by an evil soldier (another long story), which explodes into flames and drops straight down onto a parked car, which explodes into even bigger flames.

That’s the Baxley touch. Most guys would’ve just had the bike skid out.

Whenever shit pops off, Baxley and his stunt team don’t chump out, they go the extra couple miles, especially in the fiery explosion department. In this world everything explodes. Mafia rivals don’t do drive by shootings, they toss grenades. During a high speed chase Ice turns around and fires a machine gun at a random patrol car behind him. We first see bloody squibs go off on the officer’s chest, then the car explodes. Stone causes a truck full of $1 million worth of drugs to crash, and it explodes. He causes Ice to crash into a car, and that explodes. But enough of the body survives for the gang to prop him up on his bike for a viking funeral. Hell, the whole movie is a viking funeral to the over-the-top action movies of the ’80s.

Although it came out in 1991, STONE COLD kinda feels like the culmination of the great traditions of the previous decade, before we moved into the era of slicker, more expensive studio-made ones like TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, UNDER SIEGE and IN THE LINE OF FIRE. You have your star who, like Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal and Norris came out of sports before movies, and who leads with his persona and physical presence more than his acting prowess. You have your over-the-top evil villains who rarely stop coming up with wicked things to do: randomly shoot a priest during a baptism, hand deliver a gift-wrapped motorcycle – with a head inside – to rivals dining at a fancy restaurant, mangle a loyal follower’s hand in a spinning motorcycle wheel for briefly questioning a murder. You have your comic relief sidekick (RAISING ARIZONA’s Sam McMurray in a pretty unobtrusive role as a germophobic FBI agent). There’s even a COBRA style opening (hero casually foils maniacs robbing a grocery store) and a DIE HARD style ending (gun-shy nerd partner saves the day when villain unexpectedly pops up to attack again).

But also it subtly subverts the formula. At the end the bad guy is dead, but only after a successful terrorist attack in which he assassinates the district attorney/gubernatorial candidate and Supreme Court justices while disguised as a priest. The witness/love interest is dead too, and it’s unclear if the biker/mafia alliance has even been stopped. The credits roll out over one long shot of Stone, scraped, bloody and dazed, walking away from the Capitol as a swarm of police and reporters scramble to figure out what the hell just happened here. Only the electric guitars on the soundtrack suggest a victory.

Well, that and the hair. Maybe he fucked up this time, but it’s clear that The Boz is walking out of there with his awesomeness intact. Long live The Boz.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 at 10:09 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Strictly Bozness: The Fiery Majesty of STONE COLD”

  1. I remember reading the title of the movie on the marquee of the local mom & pop owned movie theatre that I spent a ton of my childhood in. I would’ve love to know what the owners thought of it.

    And I somehow seemed to have missed that this got a Blu-Ray release as one of those overpriced special editions that are overpriced because of the fancy packaging and the useless inclusion of the same movie on two formats, that I recently complain about so often here. It’s still pretty expensive, but as soon as this gets a re-relase as not-overpriced Blu-Ray or DVD, I motherfucking need this in my collection!

  2. I love this flick! Nice words, sir.

    Apologies if I’ve told this tale before, but its worth revisiting:

    Some time ago I was working at a production company as a PA, answering phones and manning the front desk, when Craig R. Baxley comes in to meet with some of the producers. While waiting for them to come, I cant help but geek out as I’m a huge I come In Peace fan. I freak him out, but he takes it in stride.

    He tells me some stories of that, and then I bring up how amazing Stone Cold is. He gets a BIG grin on his face and says how much fun that was to make because of the helicopter at the state Senate scenes. I feel like he said they didnt exactly have permission but blew things up anyway.

    Super cool guy! And it didn’t neven occur to me that the movie he made for the company had him reunite with Chains!

  3. Yeah that guitar riff at the end might be the least earned “man this guy is awesome!” music cue ever considering that Stone completely failed to prevent the bad guys from accomplishing their goals. Actually at one point his wimp partner says he can bust the biker gang right now for some lower-level stuff and get them off the street for a few years, but Stone overrides him and says he can flip Henrickson’s girlfriend and put them away for good instead.

    And that’s what would happen in any other action movie, but here Stone gets the girl killed, gets that cop in the squad car killed after stupidly blowing his cover in broad daylight, gets taken prisoner, and heroically shows up to save the day AFTER the district attorney and the entire Mississippi Supreme Court have been gunned down. Stone may in fact be the most incompetent hero in action movie history. Obviously this movie is amazing, especially since this is what he wears just to go grocery shopping:

  4. I never liked people flipping the Boz shit for his hair. I wish MORE people, guys especially, were able to just go crazy with their hairstyle and not be thought of as weirdos. It’s definitely a failing of mine- I was in my 30s before I gained the confidence to, like, brush my hair backwards.

  5. Kurgan- I was not ashamed to rock a Seagal ponytail from senior year of high school to 2 years after college. Inspired by Seagal, no less.

    I wont mock Boz’s hair. Nor the Gabe Cash mullet

  6. I recently paid my favorite podcast to review the movie so that was money well spent.

    The one thing that I noticed, especially the last time I watched it, John Stone (Or is that Joe Huff?) kills almost nobody directly. Everybody else does it for him.

    Also, not many movies have the guts to kill just about every.single.character in a movie.

  7. “Then he was injured…”


    But, damn, do I love this movie. It is one of my all-time B-movie faves, kicking the crap out of the entire cinematic run by that Russkie stooge Seagal and blazing right ahead of pretty much every JCVD flick. It’s a movie that knows nothing of your puny boundaries or your gentrified sense of good taste. It exists entirely to show you what the ’90s action scene could have been like had the ’80s never really ended and in a better world would have spawned at least three sequels and ignited a brand new chapter in Italian cinema.

    Sadly, we don’t live in that world. But at least we have Stone Cold in BAXLEYVISION.

    And this review? It reminds me of my father’s last words. Which were…

  8. Ahh, Larry! Thank you for that episode, and for allowing them to complete the Baxley trifecta of 80s awesomeness! (Even Though it seemed they didnt like it as much as we do)

  9. Brian has mentioned in numerous how much he thinks Stone Cold is awesome. I knew going in, though, that Cargill was skeptical about it and it’s clear he’s not as big a fan. That’s OK, a lot of their fans are just discovering it and loving it so I feel a sense of accomplishment. Lol

  10. Should have been titled THE UNBEARABLE BOZNESS OF BEING.


  12. I could have guessed Kevin Sorbo would be in this, but The Boz is in there too.

  13. He probably has a few car payments to make.

  14. He probably has a few car payments to make.

  15. YouTube

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  16. Oh wow – thanks Karlos!

  17. I skipped ahead to the part where a bucket of chicken explodes for some reason and then Boz jumps his motorcycle into the scene and rescues Glenn Plummer who is wearing a rooster hat and then everything else explodes and then B-roll from BAD BOYS 1 kicks in. This is obviously a forgotten masterpiece.

  18. PSA in case you guys aren’t aware that Craig Baxley put out an autobiography last week.

    “Driven is a candid and entertaining personal story taking the reader through the little known world of the stuntman. Forty-five years of memories offer a fascinating look that chronicles the rise of a stuntman turned director. With behind the scenes tales from such films as Predator, The Warriors, Rollerball and James Bond, readers will experience the sheer determination it takes to maintain a career as a stuntman and climb the ranks of the film industry to become a director.”

  19. Love this movie! It’s so loud! I remember I watched it in my apartment on the 5th floor and my girlfriend came home and was like “Um, I think everyone in the building can hear this movie. I could hear it in the lobby.” I felt I had done it justice.

    Chains is such a great character, just a super nasty post-Altamount hippy/biker amalgam. My favourite line is when he says “We’re going to get into each other’s heads, man.” Now you know you are in for some seriously intense undercover work when the big boss drops some shit like that on you!

  20. Seattle is the closest major American city to my city so we’ve always gotten Seattle TV here. I know nothing about football but was aware of the hatred towards Bosworth from the Seattle sketch-comedy show ALMOST LIVE! Here’s their comedic overdubbing of STONE COLD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTcMV2fYJJk

    Between his attitude, high price tag, underperformance, and immediately-career-ending shoulder condition, I can see how Seattleites must have felt, but at the time of STONE COLD none of that really bothered me. Plus the movie is more than just the star of it. There’s all that Baxleyoid goodness and Henriksen and Forsythe and MacMurray. So I still love this movie.

    I’m the right age to have liked his haircut from that time too. Spiky blond flat-top mullets rule.

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