Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015


When “Eraser” came out in 1996, it was already something of an anomaly. Action cinema had changed irrevocably in the nineties, with the rise of CGI. Hyper-violent, R-rated action tent poles were becoming increasingly rare and would more-or-less disappear in a few years. By the late nineties, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career wasn’t exactly what it used to be. The time when “Total Recall” and “Terminator 2” made him the highest grossing star in the world had passed. Financial disappointments, like “Last Action Hero,” and critical embarrassments, like “Junior,” had taken the gloss off his box office clout. The Austrian superstar would suffer further indignities soon, with “Jingle All the Way” and “Batman & Robin.” Taken in this light, “Eraser” feels like the last of its kind: A bloody shoot-em-up, with ridiculous action, built entirely around Arnold’s star power.

John Kruger is an agent for Witness Protection. He is an Eraser, someone who destroys all the evidence of a target’s life so that they may start a new one. He usually accomplishes this by faking deaths and making real deaths, of those who get in the way. Kruger’s latest mission is to protect Lee, a worker for weapons contractor Cyrez. The company has developed super-deadly, high tech rail guns and someone inside is selling them to terrorists. While Kruger’s mission seems simple enough at first, it quickly becomes apparent that a mole inside Witness Protection is helping sell the guns. Teaming up with Lee, Kruger has to fight against his own agency, clear his name, get the guns back, and kill the bad guys.

“Eraser” is, on paper, not an especially memorable Schwarzenegger vehicle. It distills many elements from Arnold’s previous movies into one. The beginning of the film has him working for a secret agency, getting an assignment from his boss in a manilla file. This reminds me a lot of James Bond, which reminds me a lot of “True Lies.” John Kruger is mostly a very serious person, focused on the mission, reminding me of his character in “Red Heat” and “The Terminator.” Mostly though, “Eraser” reminds me of “Commando.” It’s truly like a nineties version of that eighties classic. In both, Arnold spends the entire plot seeking to rescue a female he has no romantic attraction too. In both, he’s a super soldier who doesn’t take people’s bullshit, is more or less unstoppable, and is fiercely devoted to his mission. Both John Matrix and John Kruger are primarily defined by their abilities to kill bad guys and sling amusing one-liners. All of this is a-okay because Arnold is excellent at doing these things.

Now, “Eraser” is nowhere near as good as “Commando.” However, it does feature some amazingly over-the-top, spectacularly ridiculous action sequences of its own. There’s some good stuff in the first half. Arnold ninjas into a house and crushes a guy’s head in a refrigerator door. There’s a solid shoot-out in a wood cabin, with a mook getting shotgunned out a window. Once Kruger gets on a plane, his boss turning on him, the conspiracy being revealed, “Eraser” goes totally fucking nuts. Arnold tears open a door, tosses a seat into the engine, and clings to the outside of the jet, a digital effect that does not hold up. He somehow avoids the flaming jet engine, gets on a parachute, and shoots the pilot of the plane before it flies into him. But wait, there’s more! Our hero does a free fall drop, getting tangled in his own parachute, before successfully landing on a car in a junkyard. (One of the film’s best moments: Arnold asks a little girl where he is. Her response? “Earth.”) Amazingly, that’s not even the most ridiculous thing that happens in “Eraser.” Afterwards, there’s a gun fight in the New York Zoo, climaxing in some very dicey CGI alligators munching on the bad guys. When a gator tries to munch on Arnold, he blows it away and utters the immortal line, “You’re luggage!” It’s awesome.

Also awesome is the central MacGuffin of “Eraser.” The weapon the villains stole from Cyrez and plan on selling to generic terrorists is a bitchin’ rail gun. It has an x-ray scope that can see through houses and people’s bodies. The bullets are reportedly faster then light but the audience sees a bolt fly through the air, a CGI ripple around it. When people are shot with the rail gun, their bodies fly backwards with incredible force. “Eraser’s” finale has Kruger facing off against the villains on a shady, midnight dock. No one can escape the rail gun’s bullets… Except for Arnold, of course. The moment the entire film has been building up to comes when Arnold explodes through the floorboards and grabs two of the guns himself. Finally, the baddest dude in the world with the baddest guns, blowing away all who oppose him. I won’t lie: When it happened, I actually cheered. This is “Eraser” at its most joyously entertaining.

As is usually the case by now, “Eraser” backs Schwarzenegger up with a very capable supporting cast. Vanessa Williams plays Lee, who is neither the most capable actress nor the best written character. However, she does okay as Arnold’s foil, playing off the Austrian well. (Williams also, hilariously, provides the chokingly earnest end credits love theme, “Where Do We Go From Here.” It wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.) James Caan plays the main villain, going way over the top as a viciously sociopathic bad guy. It’s not Caan’s most subtle piece of acting but it’s the right performance for this movie. Robert Pastorelli is the comic relief, the mob guy Arnold saves at the beginning. Pastorelli is genuinely amusing and the mafia subplot pays off fantastically, via a gay bar and suited goons. Some A-list talent, like James Cromwell and James Coburn, are sprinkled into small roles. Cromwell has literally one scene and Coburn has only a few more. I’m not sure why such recognizable names were slotted into such minor roles but it’s always nice to see these guys.

“Eraser” was directed by Chuck Russell, a reliable popcorn filmmaker who previously gifted the world with “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” and the 1988 version of “The Blob.” This is the right kind of big budget picture for Russell, a director talented at stretching ideas to their most entertaining point. (Russell would later make “The Scorpion King,” which is in roughly the same mode.) The film is a huge, silly, stupid crowd pleaser with the dial cranked up to “maximum ridiculousness.” As the last hurrah of eighties action, and for Arnold as the icon of those types of movies, it more then satisfies. [8/10]

[X] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

1 comment:

Leigh said...

One of my favourite Arnie flicks, this. Always loved it. One of the last big-budget super-violent Hollywood action extravaganzas.