Sunday, April 29, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Commando

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

In the first movie where he received top billing (on the posters, his name was listed before the title of the film for the first time), Arnold plays John Matrix, a retired army… well they never really say what his role had been, but clearly some sort of special forces team leader. He and his daughter, Jenny, live in a remote, mountainous area somewhere in the US with a false identity. However, at the bidding of political émigré, Arius, and the help of Matrix’s former teammate, Bennett, men kidnap Jenny. Arius tells Matrix that his daughter will be unharmed if he will assassinate the current president of a nation called Val Verde, a man that Matrix helped install. After leaping from the plane to Val Verde at takeoff, Matrix tracks down the various thugs working for Arius he is able to discover the island where Jenny is being held. Along the way, he requires the help of flight attendant, Cindy. Serendipitously, Cindy is working on her pilot’s license and is able to fly Matrix to the island. Upon arrival, he stabs, shoots, and blows up a tremendous number of Hispanic soldiers. Bennett goes to kill Jenny, only to find that she has escaped from her locked room. Matrix goes through the mansion, killing soldiers before finally tracking down Arius and shooting him. Matrix is able to catch up to Jenny just as Bennett is getting there. He defeats Bennett, saves Jenny, and flies off the island with Cindy as “We Fight for Love” by the Power Station takes over the soundtrack.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Matrix has a ton of good ones here. Some of the highlights 8:
“Do me a favor, don’t disturb my friend – he’s dead tired.”
Cindy asks, “Are you going to tell me what’s going on or what?!?” Matrix responds, “No!”
“Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last?” “That’s right Matrix, you did promise!” “I lied.”
“Wadja do with Sully?” “I let him go.”

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Matrix has a ton of lousy ones as well. They throw just enough lines into the movie as possible without disrupting the storyline. Here are some of the lesser ones 9:
“Why don’t they just call him Girl George? It will cut down on the confusion I think.”
“Now when I was a boy and Rock N Roll came to East Germany, the communists said it was subversive. Maybe they were right…”
“Any carry on luggage?” “Just him.”
“I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry.”
“We’ll take Cooke’s car. He won’t be needing it.”
“Come on, Bennett. Let’s party.”“Let off some steam, Bennett.”

“I’ll be back.”: Upon dropping Matrix and his babysitters off at the airport, Bennett gets back in his car, but not before Matrix holds open the car door and angrily says, “I’ll be back, Bennett!” Bennett responds, “John. I’ll be ready, John.” Major credit here as this was Schwarzenegger’s first movie after Terminator. If they hadn’t put the line in here, it might not have been picked up in subsequent movies. 9

Smarmy Villain: Dan Hedaya is one of my all-time favorite smarmy guys, whether he’s playing a major role in a Coen Brothers movie, a cameo in Travolta flick, or his recurring character as Nick Tortelli on Cheers. Here he has a somewhat ridiculous accent, and doesn’t really get the opportunity to show how sinister he is. Clearly his plan of kidnapping (and later killing) an innocent girl is rather evil, and Matrix mentions the people he tortured, but beyond that, one could view this movie and consider him someone who simply wants to better his home country. I don’t think they effectively utilized Hedaya in the kind of role he was born to play. 4

Rough and Tumble Henchman: Bennett is played by Vernon Wells, and Australian character actor who has appeared in scores of movies, but probably not many that you’ve actually seen. His most successful role was probably as “Ransik” in various Power Rangers endeavors. I would assume that Ransik is one of the evil characters because I can’t exactly see Wells getting into one of those suits. He has a terrible mustache and wears what is probably the worst suit ever woven. It certainly doesn’t help that said shirt does a fine job accentuating his ample belly. Bennett is supposed to be vicious, but his routine is so comical, and instead of ruthlessly dispatching both Matrix and Jenny when given the opportunity, he chooses to battle Matrix in a knife fight. Wells claimed that Bennett was like “Freddy Mercury on Steroids,” but that doesn’t exactly make for a true rough and tumble henchman. 5

Diminutive Sidekick: In her second filmic role, Alyissa Milano appears as Jenny. The movie begins showing Jenny and Matrix doing all sorts of father/daughter activities including: Getting ice cream, judo, feeding a deer, fishing, playing in the pool, and eating lunch. They are separated for much of the film, but this still qualifies. She is, after all, twelve years old an awfully short. 7

Rejected hot love interest: Perhaps some of you expected me to put Milano in this slot, as she obviously ended up being hot. But seriously, dude, that’s his daughter. You're sick. She was too young for you then, and too hot for you now, so get over it… n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), actually looks pretty decent here – better than I remembered at least. But she’s still not what most would consider “hot.” She is probably best known for being Tommy Chong’s daughter, but she also played the romantic lead in 1986’s Soul Man. Interestingly, that role led to a shortlived marriage between her and costar C. Thomas Howell. She has a lot of terrible lines like, “These guys eat too much red meat,” and “This isn’t a plane, it’s a canoe with wings!” One could argue that there is no romatic interest here, and maybe that’s true, but there certainly was some sort of connection if Cindy bothered to help with such a dangerous mission, and Matrix certainly didn’t tell her to scram. Plus, when meeting Jenny at the end of the movie, she greets her with a kiss in a “meet your new mommy” kind of way. 6

Arnold yelling: Surprisingly, n/a

Arnold cursing: Matrix has several great moments when he throws down an emphatic curse word. But the best probably has to be near the end when he and Bennett are fighting. Bennett says, “You’re a dead man, John.” Matrix responds with, “BuullllSHIT!” Then rises to kick some more ass. 7

Arnold crazyface: I thought for sure it’d be this one: But moments later, we get: 8
Superfluous Explosions: My goodness. When things blow up in this movie – and they blow up often, pretty much when anything falls over – they really blow up. Check out this array of explosions 10:
Director: As of press time, Mark L. Lester has helmed 29 films. And the only other movies in his catalogue that I’ve even heard of are Firestarter and Armed and Dangerous (w/ John Candy and Meg Ryan). It seems he’s still making movies, but hasn’t had anything released since 2005’s Pterodactyl. You get what I’m saying…

Franco Columbu & Sven Ole-Thorsen: For the second time on Schwarzenegger Sunday, both gentlement get the n/a. However, we do get an extremely brief cameo from Bill Paxton. Commando came out two months after Weird Science, so once he was able to wow Hollywood as Chet, he no longer had to take bit parts such as “Intercept Officer.”
Shirtless Arnold: I thought we’d manage to avoid this one. But late in the film, when Cindy drops him off near the island, he decides to wear only a speedo. Upon arriving on the island, he goes with camouflage body paint in lieu of a shirt for the remainder of the film. 9

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Cooke (played by the great Bill Duke) is impaled on some random piece of wood to end a fight whose climax remains largely unexplained. Matrix is able to kill Bennet by ripping a bit piece of pipe off the wall and sending it sailing into him in such a way that it not only pierces him and his silly shirt, but also penetrates the gigantic boiler directly behind him. This seems vastly beyond the realm of possibility just from a physics standpoint, regardless of how strong Matrix is. It does lead to the aforementioned “steam” line. That whole fight scene seems like they made it up as they went along – like they ran out of ideas. 7

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Arius is quickly dispatched with three shotgun blasts followed by a tumble off a second-floor balcony. When you’ve got a great actor like Hedaya, you’d think you could come up with something better. 4

Plausibly implausible plot: There is a lot one could take issue with here, but nearly every extremely questionable argument is addressed by the movie. I still can’t figure out why they didn’t cast a real toughguy in the Bennett role. That’s the big lynchpin that could have been fixed. I just don’t see him as a truly tough militia man. Other points that don’t make sense – Why is Sully’s Porsche at the airport if they all arrived together? Why did the police let Cindy simply leave the Army Surplus store when they captured Matrix? How is it that Cindy and Matrix are able to converse without raised voices on the puddle-jumper? I suppose the biggest question is why on earth Arius would go with a plan like this in order to regain control of Val Verde’s government? They try to explain it away with the fact that the current president would trust matrix, but my goodness what a farfetched idea. However, we do believe it because Arius and Bennett are probably not the sharpest cookies on the table. So yes, there are plenty of unbelievable concepts here, but somehow we do buy in. 7

Ambiguous ending: Let’s start with what the heck happened to Jenny’s mom? Are they divorced? Did she die at some point? That’s an ambiguous beginning and ending. But for the most part, things are sewn up. Asked by his army general if Matrix “left anything for them”, he replies, “Just bodies.” He and Jenny board the plane as Cindy flies them back to the mainland. The only remaining issue is whether Cindy and Matrix will take their relationship to the next level. But frankly, we really don’t care. n/a

Commando is extremely over the top in all facets – from plot to acting to explosions. Judged on its own merits, it fares pretty well. One could call this a campier version of First Blood, and there are certainly a lot of similarities here. Commando is probably more enjoyable and certainly more farfetched. This is the type of role Schwarzenegger is known for – the type he plays most often. After this movie, his career took a certain direction and the character of John Matrix is the one that pointed the way.

All the Schwarenegger Sundays:
The Terminator
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration

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