What a gloriously stupid movie. When I think about 1980s action, all sorts of flicks bang off the inside of my skull. Cobra, Road House, Die Hard, any of the Rambo flicks, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It was an amazing genre of film that Hollywood has never been able to fully replicate. That’s not for lack of trying. Last year there were two movies about terrorists taking over the White House, and both could have been Die Hard flicks, circa 1989. Something happened to moviegoing audiences since the ’80s, though. I’m not going to pretend for a second that we’re any more sophisticated as a group, but maybe we grew accustomed to the shenanigans of ’80s action, and that’s why it doesn’t work as well today. But if a viewer happens to be in a nostalgic mood for black and white characters, senseless one-liners, and guns that never run out of bullets, then there is hardly a better movie than Commando.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, an ex-special forces commando who has retired to the mountains to raise his young daughter. But, someone’s been taking out all the other operators that were once under his command. His former superior officer flies in to warn Matrix, and also invite him back into the army, which Matrix of course denies, insisting that he’s out, for good, dammit. The bad guys don’t care if he’s retired, so they arrive later and kidnap Matrix’s daughter (Alyssa Milano). They’re holding her hostage so they can force Matrix to do something or other. It doesn’t matter, as about ten minutes later this part of the plot is abandoned completely so Matrix can just take down the bad guys. In fact, the filmmakers discarded this part of the plot so quickly that it seems like its only purpose was to piss Matrix off so the movie could move on to the good stuff.
And what stuff that is. Over 90 minutes, a perfect runtime, Arnold kicks every ass he finds. He impales people, shoots people, scalps them with saw blades, drops them off of cliffs, snaps their necks, chops off their limbs, and sometimes, hilariously, taunts them as they are about to die. My goodness, I just realized this film is about a murderous psychopath. I think Matrix may have secretly enjoyed having his daughter kidnapped so he could let loose all his homicidal rage. I can’t believe he’s the hero of the story.
The bad guys are also pretty special. The head bad guy is someone named Arius, the former dictator of a banana republic played by Dan Hedaya, in a performance evocative of Robert Loggia in Scarface. I never bought Loggia, or Pacino, for that matter, as a Cuban, and I certainly don’t buy Hedaya as being from the Caribbean.
Bill Duke and David Patrick Kelly have turns playing some of Arius’s muscle, and it is a delight watching Arnold hunt them down. But the big dog, the ham and cheese of this film, is Vernon Wells as Bennett. If one were to combine Matrix’s body count with Bennett’s demeanor, then there would be a truly horrifying film. Bennett is totally unhinged and over the top, in all the ways that make 1980s action movies great. He looks like an overweight Freddie Mercury after doing about fifty lines of cocaine. He’s a former member of Matrix’s unit, and supposedly has a grudge against Matrix, but they really didn’t need any of that backstory. The important thing is getting these two into a room together in the film’s climax. This movie doesn’t putz around. Bennett is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and nothing on this earth is going to stop Matrix from spilling his blood. Spoiler? Not in a million years. Let me boil this film down for you. Matrix. Kills. Everybody. The fact he saved the clown for the end is just poetic justice.
Commando is one of the best shitty movies I’ve ever seen, and is a must-see for anyone who likes action movies. Go home, Alien: Resurrection. You lost this matchup.