When an actor wants to change images, he can take radical measures: shave off a mustache, put on a cape, try a little Shakespeare. In "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot," (citywide) Sylvester Stallone, the sad-eyed Ubermensch of those iconic '80s series, "Rambo" and "Rocky," goes to extreme lengths to adjust to an allegedly kinder, gentler era. He drags in Mom.
It seems an unbeatable strategy. What audience, what critic, will be so crass as to say "Yo Mama!" to a movie like this, to question motherhood, especially when it's personified by Estelle Getty, the diminutive charmer of "The Golden Girls"--here essaying the role of Tutti Bomowski from Newark, N.J., concerned parent of Stallone's daredevil LAPD man Joe.
It's an obvious macho deconstruction job and it might even have worked. Stallone and Getty have a lot of chemistry and her dry, understated maternity plays off well against his exasperated boyishness. But no. This is another "high-concept" marketing hook job--a slick, slow-witted, shiny, 100% predictable movie--and the scriptwriters, another tag team involving Blake Snyder and two of the quartet who wrote "Twins" for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, don't have anything richer on their minds than the usual feisty mother-tough son gags. Here are a few of them: Tutti flashes Joe's baby pictures, discusses his bed-wetting problems with strangers, ruins his gun by cleaning it with Clorox and accompanies him on a homicide investigation as driver and backup shooter. Copping from Clint Eastwood, she points a howitzer at her drowsy son and snarls "Go ahead and make your bed!" She sends wall-to-wall roses to Joe's LAPD superior inamorata (JoBeth Williams) and brings cookies to all the cops.
Even though the movie is PG-13, it's shameless. Barely a scrap of underworld slang or buddy-movie scatology fails to pass Tutti's lips. There's a scene where Stallone tries to flush an obnoxious colleague down a toilet, and another one, a career first, where he appears on-screen in a diaper.
It's obvious that this gentling of Stallone's image--something he also tried in "Rocky V"--is influenced by the softening of his rival, robotic muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, in silly but lucrative movies like "Twins" and "Kindergarten Cop": both of which were produced by the "Stop!" team of Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross. "Twins" featured a famous sight gag where Schwarzenegger ridiculed Rambo, but Stallone doesn't respond in kind. It's Getty who steals the "Terminator" line, "I'll be back!" investing it with all the menace of an infuriated cherub.
"Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot" is the sort of movie that barely exists, except as a response to other movies. It's doubly thin: Roger Spottiswoode has directed it with the gleaming, hard-edged impersonality of a TV coffee commercial. But I feel duty-bound to report that I saw this movie with my own mother and she enjoyed it, especially the scenes where Getty bossed around Stallone, or gunned down villains. So, perhaps the strategy--turning Super Sly into Sonny Boy--isn't so preposterous after all. In the movie '90s, with the romance of money gone sour, and the military scaling down, motherhood may be the last true refuge of machismo.
'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot'
Sylvester Stallone: Joe Bomowski
Estelle Getty: Tutti Bomowski
JoBeth Williams: Gwen Harper
Roger Rees: Parnell
A Universal Pictures presentation of a Northern Lights production. Director Roger Spottiswoode. Producers Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Michael C. Gross. Executive producers Joe Wizan, Todd Black. Screenplay by Blake Snyder, William Osborne, William Davies. Cinematographer Frank Tidy. Editor Mark Conte, Lois Freeman-Cox. Costumes Marie France. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Charles Rosen. Art director Diane Yates. Set designer Robert Maddy. Set decorator Don Remacle. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.