Always Give the Naked Man Your Motorcycle, and Other Lessons From Action Movies

Elias Stein

A happy moment in my life was when I watched Mortal Kombat for the first time with my sons. They were 6 years old, and I will freely admit that’s maybe a little too young to watch Mortal Kombat. I will also freely admit that I make somewhere between five and 15 parenting mistakes per day, so this isn’t that surprising.

As soon as the movie was over, one of the twins, Boy B, asked me if I wanted to play Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero. Now, we’d never played a game called Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero before, but I knew immediately what he meant. He watched the movie, was inspired by it, and wanted to re-create it. I remember having that feeling when I was a kid, because I still have that feeling.

An example: In the mid-2000s, after many days of persuading, I finally got my wife to watch Blade for the first time. She’d never expressed any sort of interest in vampires or karate, let alone vampires who did karate, but I thought she’d like it. I was wrong. I was 100 percent wrong. She fell asleep 30 minutes into it. I stayed up watching it because I’d already paid the few dollars to rent it. After the big fight scene between Blade and Deacon Frost, I was so fired up that I walked from the couch to the DVD player to click it off, I flip-rolled back across the floor so that I was right next to her on the couch, sprung up, made a very loud noise, and attempted to demonstrate karate.

As you can imagine, this was not very well received, but that’s not the point. The point is this: Movies are dope and I love them — action movies most of all. I feel them in my bloodstream. I learn from them. This is about lessons I have learned from action movies.

Let’s do some quick-hit lessons before the longer stuff:

  • Die Hard: Likely the greatest action movie ever. The lesson here is always be prepared, and also always wear shoes.
  • Crank: If you feel like you are going to die, try having sex in public and maybe you’ll come back to life.
  • Bloodsport: Always wear goggles during fight tournaments.
  • Casino Royale: Guys who cry blood are rarely decent people.
  • Desperado: Always make sure you kill the right Mexican, not the wrong Mexican.
  • Every Single Jackie Chan Movie: Everything is a weapon.
  • Point Break: Sometimes your friends aren’t really your friends.
  • Con Air: Always try to do the right thing. (Another lesson here might be this: “Don’t do Southern accents.”)
  • Top Gun: Be careful when exiting things.
  • Speed: Don’t use public transportation.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: A dude will do anything to stay with a girl he knows is significantly more attractive than he is.
  • Catwoman: Don’t watch Catwoman.

Now you get it. That’s how this is going to work. Let’s get a little more in-depth for the rest:

Commando

Scene: John Matrix promises to kill a henchman last because he likes him.

What Happens: He actually kills him second.

The Lesson: Sometimes, when it’s practical, lying is OK.

It didn’t make any sense for Matrix to let Sully live. Sully would just jam Matrix up later, so Sully had to die. It’s a mistake way too many action stars make today. Remember in Saving Private Ryan when they let that one guy live, and then he showed up an hour later? Never happens if John Matrix is in charge of that platoon.

Face/Off

Scene: Agent Sean Archer, now living as criminal Castor Troy, gets into a prison fight.

What Happens: Archer, his face swapped out with Castor’s, is put in prison. He gets into a fight. And he loses his goddamn mind.

The Lesson: This is an extension of the last lesson: If you’re going to lie, you have to dedicate your life to that lie.

I’ve got lies I’ve been holding on to for two decades now. Not little stuff either. Not, like, SAT scores or whatever. We’re talking about Fundamental To My Existence stuff. If you lie, you gotta live that lie. That’s what Face/Off teaches you. That’s what Face/Off gets right.

Jaws: The Revenge

Scene: Some people go on a super-fun banana boat ride.

What Happens: Revenge Jaws attacks the banana boats and eats a woman.

The Lesson: Never, ever swim. Not in an ocean, not in a lake, not in a river. Don’t take a bath. Don’t step in puddles after it rains. Never even drink water. Stay away from boats. Stay away from bananas. Stay away from anything banana-shaped. All of that.

Quick story: In the mid-’90s, my family and I were at a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas, where they had banana boat rides. It was $5 per person to do it, and I decided to do it with two of my sisters. When you ride on a banana boat, you feel 100 percent ridiculous. I suppose a banana is the most practical fruit to model a boat after, but it doesn’t make it any less silly. At any rate, the guy who’s pulling it, he tells you that when he makes a turn, everyone on the banana boat has to lean into the turn, too, otherwise it’ll tip over. Now, he says “tip” like it’s something fun and cute. It’s not. Because he pulls that thing real fast.

So we were riding, and he started to turn. I yanked as hard as I could in the other direction, and ka-blamm-o: We all went tumbling off, skipping across the top of the water like little Mexican rocks. The whole reason I did it was because I’d spent the 10 or so minutes we spent waiting for our turn convincing my sisters that if we fell off the boat we were 100 percent for sure going to get eaten by a shark, and the whole point of being a big brother is to try to convince your younger siblings that they’re going to be eaten by an animal at any given time. When we crashed, they were freaking all the way TF out. I thought it was super-funny, until it became terrifying. Because I’d accidentally convinced myself that we were going to get eaten by a shark. Those 45 seconds waiting for that guy to pull that banana boat back around? Definitely in the top-five-worst 45 seconds of my whole life.

Predator

Scene: The soldiers shoot up the jungle.

What Happens: Mac sees the Predator, starts shooting at him, then all the rest of the Delta Force guys run in and start shooting.

The Lesson: There are two lessons here, actually.

The first one is that you need good friends in your life. If you’re standing there like a crazy man, shooting up a jungle, you need friends who are gonna show up and also shoot up the jungle, and then you guys can talk later about why exactly you were doing that. Those are the best kinds of friends to have: Shoot Shit Up Blind friends.

The second lesson here, and this may be the most practical, most insightful advice given in any movie ever, and I swear to God that’s not hyperbole: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

Just think on that for longer than five seconds. It’s really actually very truly profound.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Scene: The Terminator asks a guy for his clothes and motorcycle.

What Happens: The guy says no. The Terminator throws him across the bar. He lands on an in-use stove. The Terminator takes his clothes and motorcycle.

Lesson: If a completely naked man, large or otherwise, walks up to you and asks for your clothes and your vehicle, then you go on ahead and give it to him.

If you find yourself in this situation, one of two things is happening: You’re talking to a Terminator from the future, or you are talking to a guy who is a maniac and thinks he is a Terminator from the future. Neither of these scenarios bodes well for you. You give it up.1

Lethal Weapon 2

Scene: Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh rescue Leo from murderer racists.

What Happens: Riggs uses his truck to tear down a house built one-half on stilts.

The Lesson: If you have enough money to build a house built on stilts, that means you have enough money to build a house that’s not built on stilts. Don’t build a house on stilts.

RoboCop

Scene: RoboCop is trying to rescue a woman who’s being held hostage by some street toughs.

What Happens: He shoots through the hostage’s legs and hits the guy in his wiener.

The Lesson: Sometimes you just have to stunt.

You can’t convince me this wasn’t a total stunt move by RoboCop. The hostage-taker was holding the woman up as a human shield, but he had her up off the ground so her legs were dangling. RoboCop shot through her legs as she was moving them around. She’s also wearing a dress, so he couldn’t see where he was aiming. That’s a very high level of difficulty. If he could do that, he could’ve just shot the guy in the head or shoulder or anywhere, really. RoboCop wanted that shot. It was like his version of when Jordan switched hands mid-layup against the Lakers; nobody was coming to block that shot, he just felt like flexing a little.2 More evidence RoboCop was an all-world braggart: He leads the league in no-look kill shots, too.

Robocop No Look

Enter the Dragon

Scene: A guy tries to stunt on Bruce Lee by breaking a board with his fist right before they fight.

What Happens: An already motivated Lee — the board-breaking man aided in the murder of Lee’s sister — atomizes the dude.

The Lesson: Sometimes you should just not stunt.

A good way to tell when it is or isn’t  the right time to stunt is by answering this question: Am I standing within striking distance of a man whose sister I helped kill and also who happens to be super good at martial arts? If yes, then no, don’t stunt. If no, then yes, you may stunt.

Under Siege

[Editor’s note: We cannot show you the scene from Under Siege, but you should rent the movie, because it’s perfect.]

Scene: Jordan Tate pops out of a cake and starts dancing. (This is the SFW version.)

What Happens: Tate is supposed to jump out of a cake and dance for the sailors on the ship. She does so, but it takes her nearly 30 seconds to realize the only person in the room is a guy with a gun pointed at her face.

Lesson: Pay attention.

You don’t need to be Robert Redford in Spy Game, but you need to at least have your eyes open. And I don’t mean that in the figurative sense, either. I mean for real just have your eyes literally open. That’s it. That’s all it takes. Allow light and images to touch your eyes so your brain can process them.

Road House

Scene: Dalton spots the knife on the end of the guy’s boot.

What Happens: Dalton sees the boot, refuses to let the guy and his friends in the bar, drags the guy outside by the foot, removes his boot, throws it on the roof, then beats him up a little.

The Lesson: Sometimes dudes have knives on their boots, so always be careful.

Here’s something I don’t understand: Why did the guy try to ax-kick Dalton? As a style of kick, it nullifies the whole point of the boot knife. If he had managed to hit Dalton, he’d have caught him with his heel rather than the knife part. He should’ve done a front roundhouse kick, or straight tried to punt Dalton or something — anything besides what he does here. I just don’t get it. He took all that time preparing his knife boot, shining the blade. All for nothing. He probably regretted that on the drive home. I kind of feel bad for him, actually.

Demolition Man

Scene: Simon Phoenix destroys police.

What Happens: After being woken up from a cryogenic sleep, Simon Phoenix, a true and real criminal, runs wild in the future because all of the police are super chumps — they were able to eradicate violence and crime, so they don’t know how to handle it when it happens.

The Lesson: Don’t cryo-freeze criminals. Just let them be.

Without people in prison, we don’t get movies about prison (a vital subgenre), and we also don’t get TV shows about prisoners (also vital), and I’m not sure I even want to be alive if I can’t watch Lockup and Beyond Scared Straight.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol  

Scene: Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn sneak into a super-secret vault by fabricating a hallway illusion.

What Happens: The illusion is all set in motion by Dunn projecting the sound of water dripping, which distracts the security guard just enough that he has to go check on it, which gives Hunt and Dunn enough time to do what they need to do.

The Lesson: Don’t fix anything in your house.

I live in a constant state of fear that any sort of malfunction at my house — spotty electrical connection, A/C that’s not cooling, dishwasher that won’t rinse dishes properly — is actually something to distract me from Tom Cruise trying to steal my shit. So I don’t fix anything. I have a whole bunch of leaky faucets in my house. I also have all of my important documents and state secrets.

Taken

Scene: The daughter gets kidnapped.

What Happens: Mom and Daughter lie to Dad about where Daughter is going, who she’ll be with, and what she’ll be doing. Shortly thereafter, Daughter is one of the prized possessions of an Eastern European sex trafficking ring.

The Lesson: Don’t lie to your dad.

Taken would’ve been a way simpler movie if everybody had just told the truth. It probably would’ve been 10 minutes long. “Dad, can I go to Eastern Europe to follow some rock group around?” “No. There’s a real bad sex trafficking thing going on over there.” “For real?” “Yes.” “OK, cool. Can I have a karaoke machine for my birthday then?” Movie over.

The Last Boy Scout

Scene: Joe Hallenbeck asks a guy for a cigarette and for a light.

What Happens: The guy gives Joe a cigarette. Joe asks for a light. The guy pretends like he’s going to give Joe a light but then punches him in the face. The cigarette gets knocked out of Joe’s mouth. Joe says he dropped his cigarette, then asks for another. The guy gives him one. Joe says he still needs a light, and that if the guy touches him he’ll kill him. The guy punches him. Joe puts his nose through his brain.

The Lesson: If you punch a person, and that person’s response is to ask you the same thing he asked before you punched him the first time, and then he threatens to kill you, maybe don’t punch him anymore.

This one seems pretty self-evident.

RoboCop

Scene: “You have 20 seconds to comply.”

What Happens: A person is told to point a gun at ED-209 so it can show everyone else in the boardroom how effective it is at handling criminals. When the guy does so, ED-209 comes to life. It tells him to put his gun down, and that he has 20 seconds to comply. The guy puts his gun down. ED-209 continues counting down. The scientists controlling ED-209 begin to panic. So does the guy. So does everyone else. ED-209 makes his way to zero. Then he turns the guy’s chest into a pan of lasagna.

The Lesson: Comply.

Comply even after you comply. Comply some more after that, even. And after you’ve complied all you can comply, go ahead and get ready to just be shot to smithereens anyway. Sometimes it’s just going to go like that. I suppose Future America isn’t all that different from Current America, which isn’t all that different from Past America.

Quick Note 1: If you watch the clip, you can see that the scientists know immediately that some very terrible shit is about to go down. I can’t imagine poor Mr. Kinney was the first person who ED-209 eradicated. Very irresponsible of them. I’m disappointed in whatever governing body it is that’s in charge of regulating Machine-Based Law Enforcement.

Quick Note 2: RoboCop is brilliant science fiction. I have a profound appreciation for it.

Quick Note 3: This section got way heavier than I was intending.

Filed Under: Movies, robocop, Lethal Weapon 2, The Terminator, Die Hard, Last Boy Scout, Shea Serrano, Action Movies, taken, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Demolition Man, Road House, Under Siege, Bruce Lee, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

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