We remember the toned-down Arnold Schwarzenegger of
the early 90's, a kinder, gentler man who wouldn't blow people away
with machine guns anymore. In KINDERGARTEN COP the most
violent he got was when he beat up on a man who beat his kid ("You
hit de kid, I hit you"). In TERMINATOR 2 he was forbidden to kill
anyone so he blew their knee caps off instead. In THE LAST
ACTION HERO he murdered his lines as usual but no people. The
crowd-pleasing TRUE LIES was violent but it was a parody of the kind
of movies Schwarzenegger starred in during the 80's. It took him six
years to return to a movie with a real old-fashioned, automatic
weapon body count.
And that movie is ERASER, where Arnold plays Federal
Marshal John Kruger, witness protector extraordinaire. His charge
this time around is a defense contractor employee (Vanessa
Williams) who has agreed to testify against her company's
misappropriations of funds and weapons. ("I didn't know treason
was in the corporate strategy," she announces to her boss.) All
the evidence she needs is on a CD-ROM disc she carries with her
through the duration of the movie. At first, she doesn't think she
needs to go into hiding, but a late-night assault on her home
convinces her to change her identity.
Luckily, Arnold is right there, disguised as a buff delivery
boy, to save her from the bad guys, who have a new weapon that
shoots electromagnetic pulses at "just under the speed of light."
Of course, we can still see the pulses flying toward their targets,
so I'd estimate Vanessa's "just under" comment to mean about
185,000 miles per second under the speed of light. But authenticity
isn't important in a movie like this as long as we can see the pulses
knocking their victims back through the wall.
Arnold brings Vanessa to a Chinatown apartment, where
she burns all her forms of identification. "There goes all that I am,"
she laments, to his stone-faced reply, "What you are is in here
[gesturing to the heart region] and they can't take that from you." I
was worried at that point that the sense of humor Arnold has always
had in his movies had completely gone to hell, but those fears were
shattered a half-hour later when he shot an alligator in the zoo and
quipped, "You're luggage!" (I didn't say Arnold had a _good_
sense of humor, just a sense of humor.)
"I suppose we won't see each other again," Vanessa says.
"Not if all goes well," Arnold responds. And of course it doesn't.
Arnold and Vanessa are reunited at the zoo not twenty minutes later,
after he shoots the alligator and she shoots a corrupt marshal
because he doesn't know the "secret handshake." We know by this
point that most of the marshals are corrupt, including Arnold's boss
(James Caan), who is in the process of selling millions of dollars in
weapons to the Russian mafia, to "usher in a new era of world
terrorism." Caan makes a good psycho villian and we all know
Arnold makes a good wisecracking action hero.
After narrowly escaping death by Caan, Arnold jumps out
of a plane, pulling a GOLDENEYE (and breaking the laws of
physics) by free-falling faster than his parachute pack and opening
it just in time, in just one of ERASER's blockbuster action sequences.
Another one comes shortly thereafter, as Arnold and Vanessa break
into her company to view the evidence on her magic disc. It's
reminiscent of another 1996 summer movie, MISSION:
IMPOSSIBLE, only much more inventive and entertaining.
The same could be said of the entire movie in comparison
to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. That movie only had three action
sequences amid a sea of unintelligible plot, whereas ERASER has
almost wall-to-wall action and a plot Arnold himself could follow. It
also has some genuinely funny scenes, unlike the straight-faced
seriousness of Tom Cruise's action foray. After Arnold falls out of
the sky during the parachute scene and lands atop a junkyard car,
he gets up, brushes himself off and asks, "Where am I?" A little girl,
in awe, replies, "Earth. Welcome."
While we're comparing ERASER with the other action
films currently in release, I should point out that it's as good as
or better than THE ROCK. Like that movie it mixes light-hearted
humor with brutal violence. And Vanessa Williams is certainly a
better sidekick to look at than the ape-like Nicholas Cage. Williams
even does a decent job of acting, although all that's required of her
is nervousness at the beginning, distress in the middle and loving
admiration of Arnold at the end. It doesn't have an incredible
amount of originality and its attempts at seriousness are met with
as many laughs as the comic relief scenes, but ERASER is a
constantly entertaining no-brainer that provides two hours of
escape from the oppressive heat and boredom of summer.
Copyright © 1996 Andrew Hicks