Stone Cold [Movie]

An action film with a big budget but the soul of a B-movie, Stone Cold (1991) was a critical and commercial failure. It was made partly in Little Rock (Pulaski County) at the Arkansas State Capitol and is perhaps best remembered by Arkansans for its use of the state’s capitol building as the site of a ridiculous, overblown battle scene.

The director of Stone Cold, Craig R. Baxley, was a veteran stunt coordinator. His movie was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of films featuring tough, violent cops, but Stone Cold was made when this type of action entertainment was going out of favor. For instance, Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series began in 1974, but its fourth entry was routine filler by 1987. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series ended in 1988. In 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoofed the tough cop subgenre with the comedy Kindergarten Cop. By the late 1980s, tough cop movies had fallen into the hands of lesser stars like Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who worked with lower budgets than Eastwood and Schwarzenegger.

The makers of Stone Cold bucked this trend by spending a lavish budget (variously reported as $17,000,000 or $25,000,000) on their movie, with a generous four-month shooting schedule (June–September 1990). With a working title The Brotherhood, the film was shot in California, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Conway (Faulkner County) as well as the Arkansas State Capitol. The filmmakers had asked to shoot their bloody climactic battle scene at the Mississippi State Capitol, but officials in Mississippi refused.

Arkansas’s secretary of state W. J. “Bill” McCuen, who was responsible for maintaining the state capitol, agreed to let the building stand in for Mississippi’s capitol. Arkansas Gazette columnist John Brummett wrote two columns denouncing the misuse of the Arkansas State Capitol, moaning, “I don’t expect Citizen Kane.” McCuen defended his decision, however, claiming that the producers of Stone Cold had spent more than $2,000,000 in Central Arkansas. The capitol footage is about fifteen minutes of the ninety-two-minute movie. Previously McCuen also let the makers of the TV film Under Siege (1986) stage a terrorist attack on Arkansas’s capitol, standing in for the U.S. Capitol.

In Stone Cold, John Stone (Brian Bosworth), an Alabama police officer who specializes in undercover infiltration of gangs, is contemptuous of his superiors’ “soft” attitude toward criminals. He is recruited by the FBI (represented by a smug bureaucrat and an inept field agent) to infiltrate and bring down the Brotherhood, a violent white-supremacist biker gang. There is abundant nudity (all female) and a torture scene. The Brotherhood, led by Chains (Lance Henriksen) and Ice (William Forsyth), displays Confederate and Nazi symbols and engages in terrorism. They kill a clergyman, National Guardsmen, rival criminals, dissident bikers, a gubernatorial candidate, and the entire Mississippi Supreme Court. In the climax, they attack the Mississippi State Capitol and are defeated by the National Guard in a pitched battle, during which the Brotherhood’s helicopter is brought down by collision with a flying motorcycle.

Leading man Bosworth was a celebrity athlete, a football linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners college team and a two-time All-American. Bosworth was famous for his defiant attitude toward coaches and the National Collegiate Athletic Association as well as his “radical” hairstyles and designer sunglasses. His professional football career with the Seattle Seahawks was cut short by injuries, and he sought a movie career.

Stone Cold had to be cut to avoid an NC-17 rating, which would have barred many of Bosworth’s teenage fans. The film was released with an R rating. The Variety reviewer (May 27, 1991) noted that the hero’s “image dovetails with Bosworth’s own, dating back to his playing days” but Stone’s “bloody triumph leaves behind a particularly hollow feeling since so many innocents are mowed down in the process….Production values are commensurate with the better pics in this genre.”

There are two brief scenes that are effective. One is the Viking-style funeral for gang leader Ice, whose corpse is immolated astride his motorcycle. The other is a brief, chilling shot of children, the offspring of bikers and their “old ladies,” playing in the anarchic bikers’ camp.

With its abundant killings and general picture of anarchy and official helplessness, Stone Cold depicts a hellish view of the South. Only the loner hero (with considerable help from the National Guard) can save the day. The filmmakers hoped to inaugurate a new film franchise for Bosworth, but the gloomy, silly movie appealed to neither action fans nor southerners and brought in only $9,000,000 at the box office. Perhaps many Arkansans decided not to spend their money watching the desecration of their state capitol. Bosworth went on to a career in minor B-films, while director Baxley was relegated largely to television work.

For additional information:
Blomeley, Seth. “Capitol Improvements.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 18, 2001, p. B1, B4.

Brian and the Boz. DVD. ESPN Films, 2014.

Brummett, John. “Lights, Camera, Stupidity.” Arkansas Gazette, August 11, 1990, p. B1.

———. “Motorcycle Mayhem at Capitol.” Arkansas Gazette, August 15, 1990, p. B1.

Clancy, Sean. “Big Budget Film in State History Now.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 13, 2020, p. 1B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/sep/13/big-budget-film-in-state-history-now/ (accessed April 7, 2021).

Stone Cold.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102984/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_2 (accessed April 7, 2021).

Michael Klossner
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/07/2021

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