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When it comes to action movies, we could use less heart.

When it comes to action movies, we could use less heart. (photo)

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In an interview discussing his many, many unrealized projects with the AV Club last week, Triumph The Comic Insult Dog creator Robert Smigel moaned about studio demands to always know “Where’s the heart?” in his archly goofy, unrelentingly satirical scenarios.

“I refused to write movies with plodding, labored, forced moments that stood out,” he noted. “Now I think comedies have gotten a lot better,” citing the relentless absurdism of “Anchorman” as an example.

Nowadays, studios, in the absence of demanding comedies with heart, seem to have injected this regrettable sogginess into action films, drawing attention away from more vital matters like which expendable bad guy is about to get his ass kicked. I’m thinking, most recently, of the regrettable Jessica Biel in “The A-Team,” whose appearance drew unprecedented howls of derision each and every time she appeared on-screen at my screening. Rarely have I seen a mostly easily pleased crowd so clearly Not Having It.

Ms. Biel is not the greatest of thespians, but the protests had more to do with the fact that every time she’s on screen, Bradley Cooper’s required to tone down his sub-Ryan Reynolds act in favor of acting like an actual vulnerable human being. Specious nonsense! No one came to see that, not even the girlfriends in the audience.

06232010_ateam66.jpgOf course, the obligatory romantic sub-plot has always been with us, but it used to be more pro forma, the ritualistic female to be attained by whatever bad-ass was center screen. They certainly weren’t about to get all weepy about it.

Gushiness is a fairly recent development, something for which we can probably blame Tobey Maguire (who managed to make pining after Kirsten Dunst look realistic and heartfelt) and the widely noted aughts trend of the morally conflicted, emo superhero. This recent overdevelopment of the blockbuster heart muscle seems to work only when someone wildly over-qualified has been cast in the female part, who can underplay the role (like Gwyneth Paltrow in “Iron Man”), because these parts are always poorly written. (Which might account for the popularity of “Taken”: a Hard Man with no time for women yanks us back to the reactionary essence of the action movie.)

I was reminded of all this while watching the fine Steven Seagal film “Marked For Death,” currently available on Netflix Instant. This is the 1990 follow-up to “Hard To Kill,” which briefly took time out for Kelly LeBrock to put on her most low-cut dress and sleep with our ponytailed hero. The poster, attendantly, has her to Seagal’s left, clutching his arm and looking all “THIS IS MY MAN.”

The poster for “Marked For Death,” in contrast, gives us two Seagals — one in silhouette with a gun, and a full face glowering humorlessly, an accurate summary of what happens in the movie. Seagal shares all of three scenes with Joanna Pacula, who attempts to seduce him (flattering him by telling him it’s rare to meet a man like him who isn’t married, gay or “trying to find himself”), but he simply gets the information he needs and is on his way. Pacula is never seen again; after the final shooting, the movie’s simply over.

06232010_marked.jpgThis is not, perhaps, the most socially responsible attitude to take, but it is, nonetheless, preferable to the deep-breathing and worrying of, say, Jessica Biel. The sogginess of most action romances, in fact, is nothing more than a way to pad the running time without actually providing real chemistry or banter. Here’s wishing they would either make those roles less token and cynical and more fleshed-out (unlikely), or drop them entirely.

The absurdities of the post-“Anchorman”/”Adult Swim” comedy have gotten rid of the garbage that is the tiresome here’s-a-halfassed-concession-for-the-female-demo. Might it be too much to ask for a similar regression in the action genre? If you can’t do something well, why do it at all?

[Photos: “Anchorman,” DreamWorks Distribution, 2004; “The A-Team,” 20th Century Fox, 2010; “Marked For Death,” 20th Century Fox, 1990]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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