Here I am, just a day after publishing a review where I excoriate the film industry for producing anonymous gobbledygook, and the next film in Arnold Schwarzenegger month is more anonymous gobbledygook, action-style. But what makes Eraser such a bland, unoriginal action story as compared to, say, something like Commando? How does Eraser have any less value compared to that film? I think it has everything to do with panache. Commando revels in its cheapness, but it was also designed to be excessive. Its rough edges give it character. Whereas a film like Eraser, which has been polished to within an inch of its life, lacks character in comparison.
In Eraser, directed by Chuck Russell, Arnold plays John Kruger, a U.S. Marshal who specializes in witness protection. Whether it be mobsters ready to turn rat or corporate whistleblowers ready to expose corruption and malfeasance, Kruger has the knowledge and the resources to hide them in safety anywhere in the country. He’s called the Eraser because he can make all trace of his charges disappear. Fake deaths, new identities — he can do it all.
His latest case is to protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams), a senior executive at a weapons contractor. She has discovered that the company is selling its experimental pulse rifles overseas, breaking the law. The people in charge of the company, and some people in the government, want her dead. She is the classic damsel in distress. It is Kruger’s job to keep Cullen alive long enough to get evidence she possesses to people in the government who will actually do something with it. But, that would be easier done if his fellow agents weren’t among those trying to kill both him and Cullen. Kruger’s only choice is to go rogue, and kill as many bad guys as he can.
This film is Arnold getting back to his roots. It’s also Arnold past his prime. I don’t think that’s entirely his fault, though. Only two years before this, he was in True Lies. That was a phenomenal action film, and showed he could still be a star. But that film did make it clear that by that point in his career, Arnold required a production to be something special. He could no longer be counted on to carry a film past its limitations. His presence, while not lacking, is less substantial in Eraser.
The good news is that allows him to be more human in his portrayal of Kruger. There aren’t any endangered family members or gunned-down partners to get his blood boiling like in films past, but Kruger takes his job very seriously. More than just protecting his charges, he must get them to trust him, as well. And he does this by not being a block of concrete in a leather jacket. Arnold learned a couple tricks about emoting here and there while he was working with Ivan Reitman, and he actually manages to be a calming influence in this film, as long as no one is firing bullets his way.
So while we, as viewers, get to see Arnold enter the later phase of his career as someone a bit more believable than John Matrix or Dutch Schaefer, we do have to endure a fairly unimpressive film. Eraser is an assembly line movie. It is made of interchangeable parts that could be swapped out with other big-budget action fests from the same year. Mission: Impossible and The Rock both have similar themes of once-trusted individuals and institutions going bad, and they have plenty of gunfights. But, those films are better than Eraser. Eraser is what happens when a viable star is put in an uninspired film.