Tag Archives: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Commando (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father rescues kidnapped daughter.

John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a retired colonel from the U.S. special forces who is now living the peaceful, quiet life with his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) in a secluded mountainside home. Then when day he gets visited by his former superior (James Olson) who advises him that the other members of his former unit have all been killed off. Before he has a chance to react a group of mercenaries converge on his home and kidnap his daughter. John tries to stop it, but can’t and is eventually drugged where both he and Jenny are taken to a secret location where they meet Arius (Dan Hedaya) the group’s leader. He tells John that he can have his daughter back once he carries out an assignment to assassinate the President of a South American country known as Val Verde. As John is being taken onto the airplane to carry out the plan he fights back by overpowering his captors and he then goes on a mad dash to retrieve his daughter before it is too late while using the assistance of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) an off-duty flight attendant that he meets along the way.

The one good thing about a Mark L. Lester directed film such as this is that it moves fast, so you get reluctantly caught up into the action before you realize just how dumb and threadbare the story and characterizations really are. For the first 45-minutes it kind of works with the best stunt coming with Arnie escaping out the cargo bay exit door of the airplane and out onto the landing wheel of the aircraft before jumping into some swamp land just before the plane takes off.

Unfortunately this ends up being the film’s only highlight as everything that comes after it gets overdone to the point that it almost starts to seem like a farce and might’ve worked better had it been played up as being one. Watching Arnie fight off a bunch of security guards while inside a mall by having them all fall down like bowling pins with one blow of his fist looks too much like something used in a slapstick comedy. The scene where he tears a phone booth from a wall and lifts it high over his head is ridiculous as no matter how strong a guy is lifting something up like that will certainly destroy or injure a person’s back.

This brings to light the film’s other issue, which is the fact that Arnie never ever gets injured, or if he does he miraculously recovers from it in a matter of seconds. Watching him shoot down all these mercenaries like they were a part of a video arcade game while hundreds of bullets go whizzing by his head, but never  actually hitting him is when I got totally tuned off from it as it ceased to be believable and I was constantly glancing at my watch every two minutes just praying that the whole stupid thing would quickly end.

Chong, who is an actress that is usually able to convey a strong personality came off here as one of the most annoying elements in the movie. The fact that she would so quickly jump into helping Arnie find his daughter even though she had just met him and jeopardizing her own life and career along the way didn’t make much sense. The scene where she is able to fire a rocket launcher despite having no experience was another head-scratcher. She states that she had simply ‘read the directions’ on how to use it, but how would she have had time to read anything when every waking second is spent with them chasing after the bad guys.

Milano, who is probably better known these days for her political activism instead of her acting, gives a flat and forgettable performance. Hedaya is equally blah as the villain although I’ll give him credit for effectively looking and sounding Latino despite being Jewish in real-life. The biggest disappointment though is Vernon Wells who plays Arnie’s muscular nemesis and tries taking him on one-on-one at the end, but when compared to Arnie’s massive physique Wells looks pretty puny and an actor should’ve been cast that would’ve looked more like Arnie’s physical equal in order to come off more like a legitimate threat.

A director’s cut of this film is also available, which adds in a few more scenes and has a minute longer runtime than the studio version, but to me that’s just one more minute of your life wasted watching this dumb thing that you’ll never get back.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Running Man (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A deadly game show.

The year is 2019 and the United States has turned into a militarized police state. In an effort to keep people’s minds off of their bleak existence the government broadcasts game shows in which the contestants are convicted felons who fight for their lives against well-trained and well-equipped assassins called ‘stalkers’. When Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit he is put onto one of these shows called ‘The Running Man’ as a contestant, which is hosted by Damion Killian (Richard Dawson). They then try everything they can to kill Ben, but to their surprise Ben proves to be far more resilient than they ever expected.

The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. However, the novel is far different than the movie, which had the main character traveling to different towns in the northeast while here the game show action gets confined to a dark, dingy studio. The main character was also thin and meek-looking, which would’ve been more interesting had he been that way in the movie as it would’ve made him seem even more like an underdog.

The film’s comic book look is fun for a while and the shots showing the audiences stunned reactions as Ben continually takes down these supposedly unbeatable stalkers is funny. It also makes some good points regarding media manipulation and the hypnotic power of television although it’s too generalized and could’ve gone further with it.

The casting though is particularly good including Ricard Dawson as the egotistical game show host. He did some acting during the ‘60s, but was mainly known for his work as a panelist on ‘Match Game’ and hosting ‘Family Feud’ and yet here he falls into his role with complete ease and easily steals the film. It’s also fun seeing Jesse Ventura, who later became the governor of Minnesota wearing a tacky looking wig. Former football player Jim Brown gets one of the best roles of his film career as a stalker whose punk hairdo resembles that of a skunks and Barbara Lux is amusing as an old lady who swears liberally.

While the dark humor is engaging the story does get quite derivative. Watching Ben defeat the stalkers one-by-one becomes mechanical and redundant. The film also fails to display any type of futuristic vision as the characters use phones that are still connected by a cord, have computers with big, clunky keyboards, and watch TVs that are still of the boxy variety.

Spoiler Alert!

The most disappointing element though is the ending, which differs greatly from the one in the book and is far too neat and tidy. The idea that one determined individual can single-handedly take down a deeply corrupt system is the stuff of romanticized fiction. Having the brain-washed masses suddenly become ‘de-converted’ by showing them actual news coverage wouldn’t really work. If people have been feed a lie for so long they’re not necessarily going to know what the truth is when it hits them and may actually just consider it to be a ‘lie’. Throwing in a ‘feel-good’ ending diminishes the dystopian theme and dark humor that came before it making the film nothing more than a marketing gimmick with no real bite.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Scavenger Hunt (1979)

scavenger hunt 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mad dash for money.

When rich toy inventor Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies all of his relatives gather for a reading of his will hoping to get a giant share of his 200 million dollar estate. There’s his greedy sister Mildred (Cloris Leachman) along with her child-like grown son Georgie (Richard Masur) and shyster lawyer Stuart (Richard Benjamin) his servants (Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowell, James Coco, Stephanie Faracy) a dimwitted cab driver (Richard Mulligan), his nephews Kenny (Dirk Benedict) and Jeff (Willie Aames) as well as his son-in-law Henry (Tony Randall) and his four children.  At the reading they are given a list of items each having a certain point total and told that whoever can collect the most items by the end of the day will be given the inheritance. Everyone then splits off into five teams and scours the city of San Diego looking to collect everything from a fat person, to a toilet and even an ostrich.

The natural inclination would be to write this movie off as being lame right from the beginning as the characterizations are quite broad, the action very cartoonish and the humor at an almost kiddie level, but farce/slapstick is a legitimate movie genre, so lambasting it simply for being silly isn’t really fair. Yes, you will have to park your intellect at the door to enjoy this one, but I found myself laughing more than I thought and it is great mindless escapism for the whole family without ever being crude or offensive. It also has Cloris Leachman who adds to her already legendary and eclectic resume by playing another extreme character and flying with it.

The film has a few hilarious bits including the servants stealing a toilet inside the bathroom of a post hotel and then later on while in a science lab getting attacked by a ‘giant soufflé’. Benjamin’s confrontation with an angry gang of bikers led by Meat Loaf is pretty good and the wild car chase that ensues at the end isn’t bad either. The film successfully interweaves moments of cynical humor as well, which helps make it more agreeable to older teens and adults.

There are also a myriad of famous faces in bit parts that are funnier than the main cast. I loved Ruth Gordon as a tough talking old lady and Robert Morley as the lawyer heading the estate whose facial expression when Leachman hugs him is a gem. Henry Polic II appears as a motorcycle cop who comes into contact with laughing gas and then loses his uniform and there is Arnold Schwarzenegger as an overzealous fitness instructor. I also really liked Scatman Crothers who appears for a while as Mulligan’s partner and then disappears only to come back in a pivotal part at the very end and even sings over the closing credits.

The only thing that really got on my nerves was Richard Masur as the overgrown man-child named Georgie. Acting wise he does it pretty well, but there is never any explanation why a grown man would be acting so infantile. Was he mentally challenged, or just mentally ill? It is never explained, but comes off more as creepy than funny. I also didn’t like Faracy initially as the dumb French maid, but she grew on me and eventually I came to adore her especially when she tells off Coco. Randall, as a beleaguered father is pretty much wasted, but I did like Julie Ann Haddock as his oldest daughter who later went on to play Cindy Webster on the first three seasons of ‘Facts of Life’.

African American director Michael Schultz shows quite the flair for variety. He started his career doing black-themed films like the classic Cooley High and Car Wash only to turn around and direct the Bee Gees in Sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band and then this one, which is in every way diametrically different from his earlier work, but still an accomplishment for his ability to take on such varying works and genuinely be successful at them.

Filmed entirely on-location in San Diego this film can be great fun for kids of all ages even those that are over 40.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, YouTube

Jingle All the Way (1996)

jingle all the way 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs Turbo man.

Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a middle-aged father who finds that the long hours at his job is preventing him from attending some events that his young son Jake (Jamie Langston) is in including his karate exposition. This makes Howard feel bad and he tries to go to every effort to attain the much wanted Turbo Man action figure to give to Jamie for Christmas. Unfortunately every store is sold out of them and he must trek across the Twin Cities to find some place that might have them while competing with a mailman named Myron (Sinbad) who is on the same mission.

The film is energetic and engaging and the segment where Howard runs all through the Mall of America while chasing after a small bouncing ball is funny. The part where he kicks the burning head of a wise man statue out the window that sends carolers screaming and running for cover had me laughing-out-loud. I also liked the scene where he has to take on a roomful of bad guy santas with a giant plastic candy cane. One of the santas is so huge that he dwarfs Arnie and makes him look puny, which is hard to believe but true.

The climatic sequence done during a parade in which Howard and Myron dress up in costume to resemble the Turbo Man as well as his arch enemy and continue to battle each other for the toy is quite lively. Watching Howard flying around the Minneapolis skyscrapers while wearing a turbo charged jetpack is fun, but completely implausible that a costume to be worn at a parade would ever be equipped with something like that. It is also hard to believe that Jamie wouldn’t recognize his own father even if he is wearing a costume especially when he continues to speak in his very distinct Austrian accent.

Sinbad with his engaging personality is good in support. However, the scene where he is seen dumping letters out of his mail bag in order to keep up with Howard while running down a street is a federal offence and would most certainly get him terminated and even given some jail time and since he did it in broad daylight in front of others it could have easily gotten reported.

Langston as the kid is cute, but there are those from the old-school who think that a young child slamming a door in the face of a parent even if he is mad at him is quite rude and out-of-line. Also, being upset with his father because he doesn’t attend some of his events due to working hard at his job isn’t really fair. Becoming enslaved to a demanding job to keep up a cushy suburban existence is a plague of most fathers and if the Dad didn’t do it they might lose that nice house and be out on the street and I’m sure the borderline entitled kid would dislike that even more.

Robert Conrad is great in support as a tough-guy-like cop who is constantly having hilarious confrontations with Howard. Watching him give Howard a sobriety test is ironic since Conrad’s real-life car accident that he had while intoxicated, which occurred just a little after doing this essentially ended his acting career.

Phil Hartman is always good as a slimy character and in this case it is as the lecherous next-door-neighbor, but having him constantly speak his lines like he is a spokesman in a TV commercial becomes irritating. Harvey Korman and Laraine Newman appear in very small roles near the beginning and barely have any speaking lines, which made me wonder why they would even bother to appear at all.

The one-joke premise gets stretched about as far as it can go, but manages to come up with enough different scenarios to keep it feeling like it is evolving. The humor veers a bit too much to the cartoonish and although I liked the on-location shooting done for the most part in Minnesota I felt they didn’t take advantage of the Mall of America locale enough and more could have done more with it. The closing credits take an amazing 7 minutes off the runtime, but it is worth it to stick through them because there in one last amusing bit at the very, very end.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1996

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian Levant

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray