Director: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke,
Plot: Retired Commando John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has settled into an isolated life with his daughter (Milano), only to find himself being forced to carry out a political assassination when his daughter is kidnapped. Now Matrix has eleven hours to rescue his daughter from her kidnappers.
Review: Having launched himself into the public conscious with the Conan movies and “The Terminator” with this film we really started to the see the foundations of the Arnie formula starting with his introduction in this film consisting of close up shots of his muscular frame which only seem to make everything seem bigger and more impressive than it is. Even the chainsaw which looks pretty tiny when we see it, looks like its 6 ft long in its vanity shot.
The opening shot of Schwarzenegger carrying a log over his shoulder is such an iconic shot and feels almost like the studio introducing a major star being introduced and it could be considered so seeing how compared to the films which came before it, it’s tonly very different with Schwarzenegger trading in the sword and sorcery antics of his early films (Conan / Red Sonja) being changed out for one liners and heroic gunplay which would become the foundation of the classic Schwarzenegger movie formula. Its only on rewatching the film that you also realise just how bonkers that opening title sequence is as we go from shots of the all powerful, man of the earth to shots of Matrix and his daughter getting ice cream and hand feeding a deer, which while important to show the life that Matrix has made for himself since his retirement from the special forces tonely is just such a random switch.
The plot itself is paper thin and really only serves to guide the audience from one exciting moment to the next, especially when Matrix has to do very little work to find his way to the villain Arius’s (Hedaya) hideout on the fictional Val Verde which was also referenced in both “Predator” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” which like this film needed a Spanish speaking country like Cuba or Nicaragua but at the same time wanting to avoid any potential diplomatic issues. Sadly the film really lacks a defined villain so it ends up that the henchmen here are actually more interesting than Arius with of course the most key being Vernon Wells “Freddie Mercury on steroids” Bennett another stone cold psycho as Wells channels the same kind of driven intensity which made “Wez” in “Mad Max 2” such a memorable villian, though the questionable fashion choices remain present as here he trades in his ass-less chaps for a chain mail vest! His knife fight with Schwarzenegger though at the finale is the stuff of action movie legend.
Of course the Arnie formula isn’t quite perfect at this point as Matrix is not only shown as being the muscular badass but also capable to superhuman feats of strength such as the ability to tear phone boxes out of the ground or throw nine mall security guards through the air. The strength element is always played down usually with Schwarzenegger’s body size being more of a key element than any kind of strength. These moments as a result end up being pretty jarring when they occur though this film more than nails is the ridiculous elements of heroic gun play which in turn would form the blueprint for the action movie genre.
The action scenes are unquestionably the best parts of the film and only build as the film goes on from a hotel room fist fight with Bill Duke’s green beret (he eats them for breakfast) hanging David Patrick Kelly (who looks comically short throughout) off a cliff. The grand finale being the now legendry shootout with Arius’s personal army which see’s Matrix not only getting to pull out all the “War Toys” but also fire countless bullets without ever having to reload but also find something to turn into a weapon regardless of how cornered he appears to be. The body count alone for this finale might be one of the largest ever filmed.
The other noteworthy aspect of this film and certainly its most overlooked come from Rae Dawn Chong’s unlikely sidekick and air hostess Cindy who is initially unwillingly coerced into helping Matrix get his daughter back only to turn out to be surprisingly resourceful let alone perhaps the first ever member of the “Girls with Rockets” club by taking out a police truck with a rocket launcher. Why is it so rare to see women firing rocket launchers or similar in films? Certainly its a question which came to me when I was on the “Exploding Helicopter Podcast” discussing “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and lead to me creating a list on Letterboxd to log every film this happens (feel free to name your ideas) so its safe to say thats this film should also get a credit for being so forward thinking to have her weld such a traditionally male weapon with just as much competence as her male counterpart….even if she does initially have it the wrong way around.
A fun side note is that originally this film was going to have a sequel which would have been a reworked version of “Die Hard” and seen Matrix being hired to head up a security team at the big corporation were his daughter is also working as a lawyer. Matrix would make up a team of the toughest and most dangerous people he knows only for them to turn out to be inline with the company he’s working for which is really just a front for illegal arms deals. Matrix of course ending up to fight through all the people he hired to rescue his daughter again which sounds like a great plot but at the same time its hard to argue against how “Die Hard” ultimately turned out. Who knows maybe this will be the plot of “Expendables 4”
For mindless fun this is unquestionably one of the key Schwarzenegger films and one whose cult status has only increased in recent years. Here though we get everything we want from an Arnie movie and while it might not be perfect there enough mindless violence and action to make for the perfect popcorn movie.