This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Is there any actor whose film output is as erratic as Sylvester Stallone’s? The Rocky series is like a microcosm of Stallone’s entire career: it seems impossible that the writer of the terrific sports dramas Rocky and Rocky Balboa also wrote the brilliant but ridiculous Rocky IV and the catastrophically poor Rocky V. His return to the series in Creed found the actor playing the iconic role as written by someone else for the first time and delivering one of his best ever performances.
Stallone has dragged the Rocky series all over the place and under his guardianship the character has beaten impossible odds, lived in squalor and opulence, loved, lost and bought his brother-in-law a robot butler.
It’s not just that Stallone does some good ones and some bad ones. All actors do. It’s that he does some good ones, some great ones, some bad ones and some utterly appalling ones, and that more often than not he has a sense of authorship over them.
My journey to the glittering question mark that is Rhinestone started during the end credits of Paradise Alley, Stallone’s directorial debut about bar room wrestling (*tears off shirt and hoots wildly*), when the film’s theme song caught my ear. Upon hearing a voice that sounded soulful yet deeply, hopelessly distressed, I noticed I was being crooned to by none other than Sylvester Stallone himself. I immediately scrambled to Spotify to see what else he’d sung, finding that he’d also made musical contributions to the soundtrack of the film Rhinestone. I investigated further.
Rhinestone is a comedy about Dolly Parton attempting to Pygmalion Sylvester Stallone into a country music singer. Add to basket, proceed to checkout.
Exemplifying Stallone’s odd career choices, he opted to appear in Rhinestone at the cost of a role in Romancing The Stone. Stallone caused himself further bother by practicing his habit of becoming increasingly, er, creatively involved in the film, something he’s been known for throughout his career. He tampered with the grimy early ’80s cop flick Nighthawks, reducing co-star Rutger Hauer’s screen time, and famously attempted to change Beverly Hills Cop to such a degree that when he departed from the project his ideas ended up forming the basis for the notably un-Beverly Hills Cop-esque Cobra.
Rhinestone was subject to Stallinterference, with original writer Phil Alden Robinson (who shares writing credit with Stallone) considering having his name removed from the credits.
Further muddling things, Rhinestone is based on the song Rhinestone Cowboy, written by Larry Weiss, famously performed by Glen Campbell and less famously but more recently performed by David Hasselhoff.
While at the time he talked up his character as being closer to how he is off-screen, years later Stallone would tell the Telegraph that the role that he heavily rewrote for himself hurt his soul. Co-star Dolly Parton has since recounted a story about Stallone attempting to stop her from giving a warm shawl to a homeless man during a break from filming, although she broadly talks about working with the actor in positive terms. “I loved working with him, he’s a great person” she said in one interview (and because nothing to do with Rhinestone is normal, it’s an interview conducted by Andy Warhol).
Director Bob Clark, who had recently directed A Christmas Story, rounded out the confusingly constructed creative team. Clarke is perhaps best known for directing slasher classic Black Christmas and sex comedy Porky’s. Clark came on board after two weeks of shooting had already taken place, although eventually settled on discarding the footage that had been shot. Clark found himself hampered further by unaccomodating weather which caused the production to shut down for several weeks.
When production was finally completed, the Frankenstein’s romcom lurched clumsily at audiences, scaring them away and returning just $21 million, killing dead any chance we may have had of getting Parton cast as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. For Stallone it was a disappointment, but sandwiched between the releases of the first two Rambo films (both massive hits) it’s hard to imagine the star losing too much sleep over it.
Stallone plays Nick, a cavalier cabbie who drives as recklessly as Stallone was steering his career. It’s a performance that’s desperate, manic and fraught, yet somehow also smug, which feels impossible. It’s a turn that it is consistently, predictably awful, each line of dialogue landing with a thud that makes the experience of watching it akin to being Sideshow Bob, repeatedly stepping on rakes and being bashed in the face in The Simpsons.
Rhinestone starts in a New York City country music club. It’s here that country singer Jake (Dolly Parton) gets into an argument with the club owner (Ron Liebman) that’s so detached from reality it probably thinks Stallone’s hair is cool. The plot tumbles out of this argument like it’s being emptied out of a sack. They agree that if Parton can turn an unlikely candidate into a country act that can win over the rowdy club crowd, she’ll be released from her restrictive contract. If she can’t she has to have sex with him.
Dolly Parton’s fuck bet isn’t the only confusing sexual content in this incredibly broad, light comedy. Stallone’s Nick lives above his family’s funeral parlor and, he tells Dolly shortly after being plucked from the streets of New York to become her musical protégé, has a large organ that’s used for funerals. Then they spend an entire scene repeatedly saying that Stallone has a ‘large organ’.
Perhaps during production when they couldn’t hear people not laughing it seemed like they were effectively wringing the idea of jokes, but the way it plays is ‘Guys, large organ! Ha, like we’re saying he has a big penis. Too cryptic? So it’s his organ, the word organ meaning a musical organ on the surface but cleverly implying a second meaning – his sexual organ – and then it’s even funnier because it’s big. Guys? Look, Sylvester Stallone, who is in a funeral parlor, will not stop telling you his dick is big until you laugh, so please will you?’
Having thoroughly throttled Stallone’s organ (they started it), we meet his screen family and mamma mia, they’re awful. They’re a stereotypical Italian family, in that someone spent an afternoon filling up a vat with Mamma’s homemade Italian stereotype sauce and then used it to marinate the script pages for every scene they’re in.
Dolly takes Sly down to Tennessee to dunk his head in the authentic spirit of country life, holding it down with both hands as he flails and kicks and gasps for air. Barnett (Tim Thomerson), Parton’s ex, is a locally renowned country singer who takes an interest in Stallone before deciding that he doesn’t much like him. A rivalry forms.
“I like my beer real foamy, you know?” Barnett tells Stallone, and sure enough his glass is ¼ beer and ¾ foam. And that’s the entire joke. If you laugh at this joke you fail the Voigt-Kampff test and Ryan Gosling has to shoot you in the head. As a result of this joke Ryan Gosling has had to shoot 0 people in the head. Rhinestone is just botched joke after botched joke, like a toddler reading out Christmas cracker gags, or like one of my articles.
Once Stallone has gotten the knack for performing he tests his mettle by playing for a proper country audience in a local bar. Barnett is in the audience and heckles him mercilessly and without wit, only to find that Stallone, now affecting a country accent after less than two weeks in Tennessee, is ready for him.
“You can always tell when Barnett’s been over to my house. The toilet ain’t never flushed and the cat’s pregnant!” Stallone quips.
“Ha, good one Sly” I suppose from my sofa.
“That’s old Barnett alright” agrees another audience member.
“Wait, is it? Like, that’s his reputation? He’s the father to a string of human-cat babies? I need answers!” I bellow at the television, alarming my neighbours and disturbing their mornings. But you would think they would have made more of the cat sex or not mentioned it all. It doesn’t do to introduce it as a casual element of your Dolly Parton/Sylvester Stallone musical comedy; cat-human babies are either your A-plot or they don’t survive the second draft.
“Act like you mean it” Dolly Parton tells Stallone, helping himwith his on-stage banter while also decoding her Rhinestone survival technique.
Parton seems to take to the film better than anyone else. It’s old fashioned and you could imagine it appealing to anyone who enjoys her in-movie on-stage patter. I don’t know if appearing comfortable in this film is a compliment or not. It’s a thankless role, one she grins and grinds through with admirable poise. I don’t encounter her voice very often and it had never occurred to me how strong it is until it started mercifully drowning out Stallone’s.
It’s some favour she’s doing us. There’s something about watching Sylvester Stallone howling “Old McDonald had a farm” at a silent, sombre crowd of country music enthusiasts as Dolly Parton forces a numb grin that offers us an insight into the all-consuming blackness of a void beyond our existence. It really is a poor performance of Old McDonald Had A Farm.
With Stallone now a genuine country music sensation, or at least practiced to the point of passable, they head on back to New York where Dolly Parton immediately berates him in front of his entire family the day before his bet-settling performance. Bizarrely, the scene involves Dolly Parton tearing Stallone to pieces with incisive put downs, shattering his confidence right as she’s relying on him to perform, yet he still comes out of the scene looking like a worse person. Rhinestone is not a film that benefits from interrogation with ‘why’ questions.
Before his big performance Sylvester Stallone dresses up in a sequined cowboy outfit and storms Trump Tower on horseback, only to arrive and find that Dolly Parton has already beaten up the baddie. Right on.
The film ends on a big sing-song as Stallone takes to the stage to perform to a room full of vicious, merciless hecklers. Only, the hecklers aren’t that vicious. In the age of the internet commenter, these scenes seem quaint. Someone said your singing sucks? Sounds rough. Hundreds of strangers want me dead for saying the Tom Cruise Mummy film isn’t that bad.
“Shut up! You’re giving me a rhinestone rash!” one of them hollers at Stallone.
“Fuck you with your shitty putdowns! I will eat your entire family! Fuck you!” I yell back as my neighbors continue to bang on my wall because I won’t stop arguing with a 34 year old film that I’m watching by choice.
Men will never know the pain of childbirth, but I’d like to get the opinion of someone who has given birth to find out how watching Rambo perform the musical number at the end of Rhinestone compares. It must be close to as painful.
I don’t know if writing this article was a good thing to do. It’s not like it was necessary to drag an old movie into the town square so that we can all chuck rotten fruit at it. And I love some of Stallone’s movies. The Expendables 2 is great fun, he’s in god-damned Demolition Man and he steals the entire movie in Copland. But Rhinestone is a cold mash potato sculpture of a film. I watched the damned thing and it can’t have been for nothing and so here we are.