Movies guaranteed to take you nowhere fast

A sweaty guy's discriminating guide to the best -- read cheesy --action flicks for your daily NordicTrack trek.

February 14, 1999|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Sun Staff

Early most mornings while my family is still slumbering, the muffled sounds of mayhem arise from the basement. Gunfire crackles, voices bellow in rage and bodies crash through glass.

The noises do not alarm my wife and children as they waken. They know it's just me getting my exercise.

Actually, I am not the one making most of the racket. Only the grunts are mine as I huff and puff my way along on the NordicTrack, that ingenious torture device that simulates the motion of cross- country skiing. I say torture not because I find the NordicTrack excessively strenuous. It does provide a fine workout, but that is not its foremost feature. The NordicTrack's most notable characteristic is that it is excruciatingly boring.

Like all exercise equipment, the NordicTrack defeats the laws of the physical world. It has the capacity to make time stand still. When you are on the NordicTrack, all you can think about is how much longer you have to be on the NordicTrack. Once that happens, you're doomed. The minute hand of your watch will not move. The sun won't rise. While you are skiing in place, it will seem as though you'll live forever -- and you'll hate every moment of it.

Yes, on the NordicTrack, you will be able to ski your way to a stronger, leaner body, but by the time you get there, your brain will have atrophied and turned to dust from forced inactivity, from concentrated thinking about nothing more than when you can get off this infernal thing.

None of this was a surprise to me when I took up the NordicTrack last year. At that time, I had been a runner for more than 25 years, and in all that time never did I take a stride without calculating exactly how much longer I had to run before I could stop. In a quarter-century of running, I never once experienced what the running magazines mystically referred to as a "runner's high." Stopping running, that's what gave me the most thrill about running.

The only way I survived all those years was with a Walkman. Listening to music was all that kept me on the road -- that and the conviction that if I ever missed two days of running in a row, I would suffer a massive heart attack. The Stones, Creedence, Springsteen, Alanis. To me, they were the key to a healthy cardiovascular system.

So after my knees finally went and I was forced to change exercises, I knew that only a madman or a complete dullard would dare take on the NordicTrack single-handedly. Initially, I thought that I could again enlist music in the fight against slovenliness. But here I underestimated the full mind-sapping effects of the NordicTrack. Only minutes into my first trip to nowhere on the NordicTrack, I realized that music, no matter how pulsating, was no match for a stationary piece of exercise equipment.

With running, at least there was the mildly entertaining passage of scenery, the enjoyment of being outdoors, the gratifying avoidance of dog bites and pickup trucks. But the NordicTrack doesn't offer any of these welcome diversions. It's just you and four walls. I don't care how dramatic the drapery scheme, it's no defense against the stultification of the NordicTrack.

What then? Was the NordicTrack to win this battle of wills? Was I destined to either a life of sloth or one of catatonia? Was there no help for me against this wicked machine?

Yes there was, and the answer had been staring me in the face the whole time, mute and darkened, only waiting for the call to battle. How could I have forgotten that the NordicTrack wasn't exactly a pioneer in the area of mind- numbing household apparatus? Couldn't the hypnotic effect of television contend with the stupor caused by the NordicTrack? Was it possible, I hazarded, for one piece of intellect-killing equipment to counteract the effects of another? It was a crazy idea, but could it work?

By God, it could!

But the solution wasn't so easily arrived at. Television programming, I quickly discovered, is not potent enough, even with cable. Even with "La Femme Nikita." For one thing, there are the commercials. Commercials are the bane of the NordicTrack. It's hard enough focusing on an ad for a nasal decongestant or laundry detergent if you're lying on the couch. On the NordicTrack, you run into one of those commercials and you'll be off that piece of equipment as if it had been electrified.

For another thing, commercial television doesn't deliver the sort of consistent adrenalin rush you need to keep on keeping on, on the NordicTrack for 45 minutes or an hour. Too many slow spots. Too tame.

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