What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
You. Not. Expendable. Will revisit some of the classic (and not so classic) films starring the various and sundry cast members of The Expendables 2 in order to open up a conversation about action cinema in general and to prepare us all for the carnage that Expendables 2 will (hopefully) reap upon us all.
As we approach the August 17th theatrical release date of The Expendables 2, You. Not. Expendable will highlight different cast members, singling out a few of their feature film endeavors. The jury is still out on whether you, too, will want to revisit each of these films.
The first installment of You. Not. Expendable [HERE] featured Dolph Lundgren just because of how hard I fell in love with his RED SCORPION. Well, I’m pretty firmly committed to covering each major cast member of EXPENDABLES 2 with no discernable, logical reasoning other than what exists in my head. And so we move on to Arnold. Although he was just a glorified walk-on in THE EXPENDABLES, Arnold’s role promises to be significantly expanded this time out, and seeing Sly and Arnie on screen kicking ass together is an ‘80s child’s dream!
Now, as stated above, this column just intends to visit or revisit SOME of the movies in the massive filmographies of these various action legends. If you guys want an in depth retrospective of every single film from each of these hunks of man flesh, make your voices heard and maybe coverage that deep can happen around these parts! But for now, my plan is to focus on some of the lesser seen or lower profile films of these action stars, and then maybe throw in one higher profile title.
For instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger has such an enormous catalog of iconic characters and massive blockbusters that many of those films don’t really need to be revisited, because we watch them all the time. And so I’ve chosen to eschew some of the mega-hits (and some of my favorites) like Predator, or The Terminator franchise, or even Conan The Barbarian. Instead, lets dive in to some of Arnold’s non-franchises and see what we find.
- If there's a mission that no man could survive...then he's the man for the job.
- Somewhere... somehow... someone's going to pay
Notable Supporting Cast
- Ray Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke, and TINY speaking role for Bill Paxton!
I’m frankly a little shocked to find that COMMANDO was the first film shot in this little retrospective. I would have certainly imagined that a film like COMMANDO, which is a finely tuned Arnold vehicle hitting on all the ingredients of the Arnold formula, would have come a little later in Arnold’s career, once the mold had been cast. It instead appears that COMMANDO is the patient zero. The die was cast here for what would ultimately become the trademark Arnie movie.
COMMANDO’s John Matrix storms onto the screen (carrying an entire tree trunk on his sweaty bicep) almost immediately after Arnold’s turns as Conan and The Terminator. Neither of those characters necessarily traded in 1980s excess or quippy one-liners quite like COMMANDO does.
COMMANDO tells us the story of the improbably named John Matrix; a retired Col. Who lives an idyllic existence with his daughter in an incredible cabin in the mountains. We know his life is idyllic because we get a montage over the opening credits which culminate in, I kid you not, Arnold and young Alyssa Milano hand feeding a deer and laughing as the sun sets behind them. Amazing.
The action begins 3 seconds after the montage ends, when a lone helicopter interrupts a lunch of mystery sandwiches and Col. Trautman, or COMMANDO’s version of Col. Trautman, arrives with a warning. Matrix’s men have been getting iced, even though they’ve all retired with false identities. Literally ten seconds after this information is conveyed, bodies start piling up and Alyssa Milano gets kidnapped. COMMANDO runs on constant forward momentum from that point on with a well used but effective device: the watch timer. Instead of Arnold going to kill a dictator, which is the kidnappers’ plan, he escapes from the plane undetected, and then has 11 hours to find Alyssa Milano before his plane would have landed. An insane amount of death happens in those 11 hours. Are you not entertained?!
I’ve seen COMMANDO upwards of a dozen times, but I usually forget exactly why the film bounces from airplane, to mall, to enormous island assault sequence in between viewings. It all makes sense, though, and never once takes itself seriously. Arnold sets his watch, he knows he has to both find his daughter and hide the fact that he isn’t on the plane he was supposed to be on. I really like the ballsyness of the scenario here: Matrix never once does anything that the kidnappers think he will. He just immediately starts killing dudes and assumes his daughter will be plucky enough to survive until he finds her. And we keep getting to look at his watch to be reminded about how tense we should be feeling!
But what about that Arnold formula I talked about above? Well, COMMANDO has arguably the greatest assemblage of cheesy one-liners in all of 1980s action cinema. After dropping The Warriors’ David Patrick Kelly off a cliff, he tells his (ridiculous and shoe-horned) sidekick Rae Dawn Chong that he “Let him go”. After snapping a man’s neck and bundling him up in his airplane seat, he tells the attendant not to bother his friend because he “dead tired”. And, in probably the most epic of verbal gags, he utters, “Let off some steam, Bennett” after shoving a steaming pipe through the lead villain’s heart! My favorite thing about the last zinger is that Bennett is dead, like 20 times dead, and no one else is even standing around! Arnold might as well look at the screen and zing that one right at us, because no one else is there to listen!
Other elements of the Arnold formula include required scenes of shirtlessness (check), a lock and load montage (check), and massive shootouts which scoff at the value of human life (check). A DVD bonus feature offers up a body count of 81. So yes, COMMANDO kind of has it all. Lay a friggin’ amazing steel drum score by James Horner overtop of all this insanity and just press play already.
- The system gave him a raw deal. Nobody gives him a raw deal.
- His trigger has all the answers.
Notable Supporting Cast
- Darren McGavin, Robert Davi, and Ed Lauter
While RAW DEAL is probably the most generic of the films I’m covering in today’s column, I actually kind of think that it is a better film than COMMANDO. While I enjoy the Arnold-y goodness of COMMANDO quite a bit, RAW DEAL feels like a lower profile cops and crooks movie that just happens to star Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it has maintained at least a small level of clout. Sue me, but I really like it.
RAW DEAL introduces us to Arnold as a small town sheriff chasing down a petty criminal. Somehow Arnold is supposed to be a folksy everyman upon our first introduction to him, even though we still meet him mid-jeep-chase. Soon (through an amazingly orchestrated expositional scene in which Arnold’s drunken wife lays out their entire life scenario while baking a cake, only to throw it at him) we learn that Arnold and wife are in a small town because of a case gone bad 5 years ago. Seems Arnold is a former FBI agent who was forced into retirement by a sniveling politician who will clearly play a role in the film later. (NOTE: That role will be: to get killed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
When Arnold’s former co-worker Darren McGavin contacts him, he comes with an offer of a shot back into the FBI if he’ll just go undercover to bring down a major mafia head. So, of course, Arnie drops his belligerently drunk wife, slicks back his hair with a little grease, and transforms into Joey Brenner: Low Level Mob Enforcer. Hmm, I would actually watch a movie titled that.
What I love most about RAW DEAL is the 30-minute gunfight that wraps it all up. But what I love the second most about RAW DEAL is how little it all makes sense. Darren McGavin basically wants vengeance for his son (gunned down on duty while protecting a mob informant), so he hires Arnold to go undercover and waste some dudes. There is really never any indication, or proof of any kind, that Darren McGavin CAN reinstate Arnold into the FBI. At all. Then Act III happens, in which Arnold literally single handedly kills the entire Chicago mafia. It would be challenging for the most legitimately decorated agent to explain the carnage he has wrought to his superiors, much less some dude who was undercover on a vendetta. But this is an ‘80s action movie, so instead of fallout from the gangland massacre, we close out the film with a scene of Arnold inspiring his injured mentor to walk again so that he can be the Godfather to his recently conceived son! No joke, RAW DEAL never actually shows us a glimpse of Arnold’s post-genocide life. He just pep talks Darren McGavin with a little exposition and some guitar rock!
RAW DEAL is that awesome breed of action film in which every single action beat is preceded by an electric guitar score, with some electronic drums thrown in for good measure. It is the kind of film where Arnold doesn’t so much have a lock and load montage, but rather a five-minute long sequence in which he loads guns, dons a leather jacket, and wraps it all up by LOOKING AT HIMSELF IN THE MIRROR! RAW DEAL is the type of film that makes sure “Bullet Proof Glass” is written in bold type on a limo’s windows during a chase scene, because it knows we need that visual cue. And while the body count in COMMANDO almost has to be higher than here, it can’t be by much. As I’ve alluded to before, once Arnold is fully loaded, this movie’s entire third act becomes mobster-pocalypse, while also being hugely satisfying.
In my fantasy reality, Arnold’s upcoming THE LAST STAND is actually a sequel to RAW DEAL in which his character once again settles back into the life of a small town sheriff after dumping his lush wife and completing a long and successful career in the FBI, and after countless waking nightmares of having killed one hundred men single handedly back in the ‘80s.
- Moscow's toughest detective. Chicago's craziest cop. There's only one thing worse than making them mad. Making them partners.
Notable Supporting Cast
- James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Laurence Fishburne, Gina Gershon, Brion James
My favorite of the three films in this piece by a country mile. While I am such a huge action fan that I can’t claim any sort of objectivity for how good this movie is in comparison to normal people movies, I can say that Red Heat is kind of a forgotten gem of buddy cop films. Once I drop the knowledge that Walter Hill directed this movie, I probably don’t need to write anything else. Walter Hill’s name on an action flick is all a discerning action connoisseur needs to hear.
But why is RED HEAT such a good time at the movies? Well, for one thing, let’s talk about the different approaches one can take when casting Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our beloved Arnold is not what one would call “method”. People write roles for Arnold, or wrap roles around him once he is cast. Arnie doesn’t exactly disappear into a role. Both COMMANDO and RAW DEAL follow the formula of casting Arnold to be physically over the top and verbally quippy. Movies like that use Arnold’s larger than life personality to further a brand. The Arnold brand. But there is another way to cast Arnold. And James Cameron struck gold by casting him in Terminator as a wooden, imposing, relentless figure. Let’s face it; Arnold being called The Austrian Oak applies to both his physique and his acting chops. And so, Walter Hill followed James Cameron’s lead and cast Arnold as a stoic and buttoned down Soviet detective, Ivan Danko.
Casting Schwarzenegger as a shark-like Soviet law machine was ingenious. And in the next corner we have James Belushi as the wisecracking Chicago cop tasked with babysitting Danko as he attempts to capture drug dealer Victor Rosta. I’ve seen a TON of buddy cop films over the years (maybe all of them?), and frankly, I really can’t get enough of them. It is a go-to sub genre for me. And while many fail at capturing magic, my take is that the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Belushi was amazing in RED HEAT. Belushi has never been funnier than he is here. Probably 90% of his wisecracks totally work for me. And that is in no small part because so many of them are at the expense of Arnold. Arnold is the straight man in this comedy duo, and Belushi riffs off of him like a master. “You look like Gumby.”
But my guess is that between the chemistry of the leads, a decently beefy script and the directing genius of Walter Hill, RED HEAT became a lot more awesome than it really had any right to be. All you have is one bad drug dealer and his minions versus two tough guy cops. That is the movie.
But some of the creative touches here are crazy effective. The evil Rosta (who we know is evil because he has one of those sliding wrist guns hidden in his coat sleeves) has teamed up with a Nation of Islam-style prison gang Stateside, and so our heroes have to contend with an army of Black men with shaved heads waging war on the system. Great touch, and the script sells this development well with a prison scene that is kind of magic. You’ve also got the obligatory angry police chief stuff with Peter Boyle playing the pissed chief this time around, and Larry Fishburne as his right hand man. This cast just sells the thing and I feel like there is a real city operating beyond our story, and that these are real cops with lives and families.
The only thing missing in RED HEAT is an enormous shoot-out at the end where Arnold kills at least 100 dudes. But, since this film tries to ground itself in a (mostly) real world, a kill fest like that isn’t possible. Instead, we get to see Arnold and Rosta destroy half of Chicago in a huge bus chase. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen two crazy Russians playing chicken with buses! “This whole thing is just… very Russian.”
NEXT TIME: Van Damme!