Commando (1985) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: Rated R for strong violence, language and nudity
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke
Cameo: Bill Paxton
Director: Mark L. Lester
Screenplay: Steven E. de Souza
Review published April 18, 2008
Arnie's followup to The Terminator shows that he has the screen presence to be a major player in the action movie genre, but that alone isn't going to carry a movie from awful to good. Although a few of the stunts are nifty, the substandard direction and weak story keeps this one in the realm of b-movie entertainment, despite Schwarzenegger's penchant for deadpan one-liners. Poor casting of Rae Dawn Chong (American Flyers, Soul Man) as his comic relief sidekick yields low results, as she doesn't have the comic timing of her counterpart, along with a particularly awful role for Dan Hedaya (Blood Simple, Wise Guys), whose bad Spanish accent and faux-tan ups the cheese factor to the point where the film can scarcely be taken seriously. Had this been a comedy, all could be forgiven, but as funny as Commando is for the duration, most of the laughs come without intention.
Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian, Predator) stars as Col. John Matrix, a highly-trained military special ops expert whose unit was disbanded and now live under secret identities in retirement. Matrix spends his days as a single father taking care of his spirited young daughter, Jenny (Milano, Buying the Cow), to whom he has promised not to go out on any more special missions. However, John's hand is forced when Jenny is abducted by a displaced South American dictator (Hedaya) who wants his old gig back, planning to use her for ransom as John puts out an assassination on the current leader. Thinking that Jenny will be killed even if he fulfills the demands, Matrix sets about dismantling the small army the dictator has around him, with the help of an airline attendant named Cindy (Chong), in the hope that he can rescue his daughter before she is offed.
Even if he isn't a gifted actor, Schwarzenegger is always fun to watch, especially in the way he can rise above the schlock to give a good physical and comical performance that allows the audience to feel a sense of fun right along with him. When he's off the screen, interest wanes considerably, and unfortunately, the cuts back to the bad guy's lair come far too frequently for momentum to carry. Even when Arnold is in front of the camera, he isn't given much of a script to work with, as action scenes mostly consist of finding new ways for him to dispatch cardboard henchmen until the predictable conclusion pits him with the dictator and Matrix's former comrade, who apparently has an axe to grind, Bennett (Wells, The Road Warrior).
Without an interesting plot to follow and with its lack of a good supporting cast, Commando's appeal is limited strictly to seeing Arnold rack up a high kill count without much need for lengthy explanation. It probably helps to like your entertainment as mindlessly violent and unabashedly over the top as possible.
©2008 Vince Leo