Liam Neeson’s career was hardly on the skids before Taken, but he’d largely settled into wise old mentor roles. In 2008, however, he was reborn as Bryan Mills, battering his way to huge box office and a new career as Action Dad. It was a surprise result for a movie that Neeson was confident would go straight to video. Others have followed the path – John Travolta in From Paris With Love; Kevin Costner in 3 Days To Kill; Nicolas Cage in mostly everything – but other fading A-listers who tried their hand at action have not been so lucky. For every breakout late-life action star, there’s another plodding away on low budget, straight-to-video shoot-‘em-ups. Here are ten cases in point.
Who's he? Oscar-winning co-star of Jerry Maguire
Below-the-radar outing: The Hit List (2011)
Director: William Kaufman
Co-stars: Cole Hauser, Jonathan LaPaglia
Plot: Cuba Gooding Jr. as a hobbyist hit man who elicits a kill list from down-on-his-luck drunkard Hauser. When Hauser realises the people from his impromptu roster are actually dying, he has a fight on his hands to stop the madness.
Cuba Gooding Jr. is a bereaved husband with brain-damage and a chip in his frontal cortex that constantly shows adverts until he either buys the product, or he goes insane.
Co-stars: Michael Ironside, Lance Henriksen and Val Kilmer (more from him later).
Cuba Gooding Jr. is a tough undercover policeman who must protect a five-year-old girl.
Co-stars: Kim Coates and Christian Slater (more from him later).
The Devil's Tomb(2009)
Cuba Gooding Jr. is the leader of a group of elite soldiers sent in to a haunted archeological dig to rescue Ron Perlman.
Co-stars: Ray Winstone, Ron Perlman.
Wrong Turn At Tahoe (2009)
Cuba Gooding Jr. is a debt collector who gets on the wrong side of a group of drug dealers.
Co-stars: Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Keitel.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 6/10
Make your own "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" joke because, frankly, it's beneath us.
Who's he? Star of Top Gun, Heat, The Doors, Tombstone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Below-the-radar outing: Conspiracy (2008)
Director: Adam Marcus
Co-stars: Gary Cole, Jennifer Esposito
Plot: Val Kilmer as a former special-ops US Marine, wounded in Iraq and intending to visit an old buddy in a quiet neo-Western town. When he arrives he finds that said buddy is missing and nobody will admit to knowing him. Cue Kilmer bringing “Hell to God’s country” and butting heads with local bigwig Cole. Basically it’s Bad Day At Black Rock. Only not.
Blood Out (2011)
Val Kilmer as the leader of an international drug trafficking ring, who gets on the wrong side of small town cop Luke Goss.
Co-stars: Vinnie Jones, 50 Cent, Luke Goss.
Columbus Day (2008)
Val Kilmer as a thief with precious little time to salvage the biggest heist of his career.
Co-stars: Richard Edson and Lobo Sebastian.
Wyatt Earp's Revenge (2009)
Val Kilmer as the legendary lawman (having played Doc Holliday in Tombstone) recounting the tale of an early adventure avenging a murder. Co-stars: Shawn Roberts and Trace Adkins.
Dead Man’s Bounty (2006)
Val Kilmer as the corpse (no lines; no flashback scenes to when he was alive; just a dead body) in Poland’s first Western. Co-stars: Karel Roden and Boguslaw Linda.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 4/10
His performances tend to suggest he doesn’t much believe it either.
Who's he? Star of New Jack City, Jungle Fever, Demolition Man, Passenger 57 and the Blade films, before he encountered some tax “issues”
Below-the-radar outing: The Contractor (2007)
Director: Josef Rusnak
Co-stars: Lena Headey, Ralph Brown, Charles Dance
Plot: Wesley Snipes as a former black-ops CIA hitman brought out of retirement for one last job. The botched assassination of a terrorist makes him a wanted man, and he finds himself on the run in London (actually Sofia, Bulgaria but meticulously disguised by the odd shot of a red bus or black cab).
Game Of Death (2010)
Wesley Snipes as a CIA agent battling in-house traitors.
Co-stars: Ernie Hudson and Robert Davi.
Hard Luck (2006)
Wesley Snipes as a former drug kingpin whose attempts to reform go predictably awry. A New Jack City reunion for Snipes and director Mario Van Peebles. Co-stars: Cybill Shepherd and Jackie Quinones.
Wesley Snipes as a supernatural gunslinger in a completely bizarre Namibian spaghetti Western.
Co-stars: Tanit Phoenix and Patrick Bergin.
Art Of War II: Betrayal (2008)
Wesley Snipes as UN agent Neil Shaw, in a belated sequel to the Bondian original. Shaw comes out of hiding for some lower-budget adventures than last time.
Co-stars: Lochlyn Munro and Athena Karkanis.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 10/10
Snipes should hopefully start returning to former glories this year, with a comeback role in Expendables 3.
Who's he? Gen-X cult movie staple: Judgment Night, Backbeat, SFW, Blade
Below-the-radar outing: Felon (2008)
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Co-stars: Val Kilmer, Harold Perrineau
Plot: Stephen Dorff is a family man who kills a burglar, goes to jail, gets framed in another killing and joins an Aryan brotherhood. It’s tough in prison, but wise old lag Kilmer helps him find his centre again.
Officer Down (2011)
Stephen Dorff as a corrupt cop on the road to redemption.
Co-stars: Dominic Purcell and Stephen Lang.
Tomorrow You're Gone (2012)
Stephen Dorff as an ex-con who agrees to one more job. It goes badly, because... because. Co-stars: Willem Dafoe and Michelle Monaghan.
Stephen Dorff as a Secret Service agent locked, Buried-like, in the trunk of a car for the entire movie.
Co-stars: Tom Berenger and Pruitt Taylor Vince.
Stephen Dorff as a violent bank robber who carjacks a feisty single mom and her young son. Co-stars: Maria Bello and Connor Hill.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 6/10
Not a superhero, but does well as an Everyman.
Who's he? Star of Dead Calm, Tombstone, The Phantom and Titanic
Below-the-radar outing: Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard (2014)
Director: Harrison Smith
Co-stars: Mischa Barton, Dee Wallace
Plot: Billy Zane as a retired military man, called back into action to keep a small town isolated from a zombie pandemic that seems to stem from fracking. One of his gang of young trainees decides he needs to get outside the walls, no matter what’s out there...
Blood Of Redemption (2013) Billy Zane as a man wrongfully imprisoned and subsequently out for revenge on the Vinnie Jones responsible. Dolph Lundgren helps him out.
Co-stars: Dolph Lundgren, natch.
The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption (2012)
Billy Zane as a villainous Egyptian king, in a sequel to a prequel to a prequel that was the spin-off of the sequel to a remake. We’ve said that before but it’s never not funny.
Co-stars: Ron Perlman, Dave Bautista and Kimbo Slice.
Sniper: Reloaded (2011)
Billy Zane as a sniper instructor in a belated sequel to 1993’s Sniper. In the original Zane’s character was Tom Berenger’s protégé.
Co-stars: Clyde Berning and Chad Michael Collins.
Enemies Among Us (2010)
Billy Zane as the leader of a group of political assassins. Co-stars: Robin Givens and Eric Roberts.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 5/10
Zane is better employed as a villain.
Who's he? Star of Pump Up The Volume, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Young Guns 2, Interview With The Vampire, True Romance
Below-the-radar outing: Stranded (2013)
Director: Roger Christian
Co-stars: Brendan Fehr, Amy Matysio
Plot: Christian Slater as an astronaut colonel in a lunar mining colony. A female member of his crew is exposed to some mysterious spores, immediately falls pregnant and gives birth within hours. The resultant alien then starts picking off miners leaving only Slater and Matysio to arrest its low-budget rampage.
*Christian Slater as a cultural attaché in Bulgaria, faced with a vigilante killing high-priority terrorists.
Co-stars: Donald Sutherland and Timothy Spall.
Dawn Rider (2012) Christian Slater as an old West gunslinger out to avenge the death of his father.
Co-stars: Donald Sutherland and Ben Cotton.
Soldiers Of Fortune (2012) Christian Slater as a dishonourably discharged military man stumbling into a war tourism racket.
Co-stars: Sean Bean and Ving Rhames.
The Numbers Station (2013) John Cusack as a disgraced former CIA spook assigned to protect a code operator. Co-stars: Malin Akerman and Liam Cunningham.
The Contract (2006)
John Cusack as an ex-cop PE teacher being stalked through the woods by an assassin’s henchmen.
Co-stars: Morgan Freeman and Alice Krige.
The Jack Bull (1999) John Cusack as a horse trader seeking vengeance against a corrupt rancher.
Co-stars: John Goodman and Miranda Otto.
Who's he? Star of GoodFellas, Hannibal, Blow, NARC, Muppets From Space
Below-the-radar outing: In The Name Of The King (2007)
Director: Uwe Boll
Co-stars: Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, John Rhys-Davies
Plot: Ray Liotta as an evil sorcerer in Boll’s three-hour fantasy “epic”. When he raises an army of orcs against the peaceful realm of Ehb, only lowly Farmer Statham – yes, his name is “Farmer” – can put a stop to his evil plans, and end this film once and for all. In the sequel, it turned out that Statham was Dolph Lundgren’s son.
Ray Liotta as a lawman in the way of an assassin, in another Boll film. This one’s a remake of the 1954 Frank Sinatra noir. Co-stars: Dominic Purcell and Michael Paré.
The Devil’s In The Details (2012) Ray Liotta as an ex-Navy SEAL psychiatrist counselling action man Joel Matthews in his apparent war against a Mexican drug cartel.
Co-stars: Emilio Rivera, Joel Mathews.
Street Kings 2: Motor City (2011)
Ray Liotta as a Detroit narc on the trail of a cop killer, in a sequel to the 2008 Keanu Reeves film.
Co-stars: Shawn Hatosy and Clifton Powell.
The River Murders (2011)*
*Ray Liotta as a homicide detective who finds himself implicated in the murders he’s investigating. Co-stars: Christian Slater and Ving Rhames.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 6/10
He can convincingly wield a gun in a thriller, but “action” is pushing it, and he should probably avoid any more camp wizard roles.
Who's he? Star of Pulp Fiction, all the Mission: Impossibles, Con Air, Dawn Of The Dead
Below-the-radar outing: Force Of Execution (2013)
Director: Keoni Waxman
Co-stars: Steven Seagal, Danny Trejo
Plot: Ving Rhames as crime kingpin Ice Man, trying to muscle in on gangsta Seagal’s territory. Seagal dislikes this, and enlists the talents of the younger, fitter Bren Foster to help take back his streets and bust some caps.
Ving Rhames as crime boss Macy Gray’s henchman in a gangster thriller.
Co-stars: rapper Cam’Ron and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s brother, Omar Gooding.
Ving Rhames as a ‘70s crime boss causing a pain in detective Pam Grier’s neck.
Co-stars: Pam Grier, Sean Derry, Casey Brown.
The Tournament (2009)
Ving Rhames as a second-time contestant in a violent survival competition in, of all places, Middlesbrough.
Co-stars: Robert Carlyle, Scott Adkins, Sébastien Foucan.
Give 'Em Hell Malone (2009)
Ving Rhames as a comic-book crime kingpin in Russell Mulcahy’s Sin City knock-off. Co-stars: Thomas Jane and Doug ‘Eugene Tooms’ Hutchinson.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 7/10
Pretty much typecast as a heavyweight villain, but he does it with aplomb.
Who's he? Star of Sharpe, GoldenEye, Ronin, Lord Of The Rings
Below-the-radar outing: Wicked Blood (2014)
Director: Mark Young
Co-stars: Abigail Breslin, James Purefoy, Jake Busey
Plot: Sean Bean as the ruthless “Uncle” Frank Stinson, the leader of a druggy crime syndicate. When chess prodigy Breslin is threatened with being taken into care, she goes to work for him. Southern Gothic shenanigans and overstretched chess metaphors ensue.
Sean Bean as a British spy with a license to kill a suicide bomber and his terrorist cell.
Co-stars: Charlotte Rampling and James Fox.
Age Of Heroes (2011)
Sean Bean as Major Jack Jones, in the true story of the formation of Ian Fleming’s WWII commando unit.
Co-stars: Danny Dyer and James D’Arcy.
Death Race 2 (2010)
Sean Bean as corrupt prison boss Markus Kane, the brains behind the convict car wreckage. Co-stars: Luke Goss, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo and Tanit Phoenix.
Sean Bean as the owner of a briefcase full of cash, very keen to retrieve it from a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth.
Co-stars: Chris Hemsworth, Victoria Profeta.
ACTION STAR BELIEVABILITY RATING 8/10
Maybe it’s the Sharpe overhang, but we’ll always buy him in the military, and he gives good villain too.