If you ignore the gigantic lapses in logic, the extraneous female character, and the ending . . .

James Plath's picture

In national exit polls, voters keep saying that they want to elect a regular person, someone like themselves. But I don't believe that for one minute. I think, for example, that Californians whose State was a mess voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor because he wasn't a regular person. He was an action star, and though no one would admit it, I suspect that voters hoped Ahhnold would come into the office with both barrels blazing and kick some ass, the way he did in "Commando."

Vigilante-style, take-the-law-into-your-own-hands action heroes evolved from America's core myth of the independent Western hero, who is more skilled in the art of manly survival, and is therefore the only one capable of taking on the bad guys.

Coming on the heels of Schwarzenegger's mega-hit "Terminator" and two years before "Predator," "Commando" was MGM's answer to "Rambo: First Blood." It's a story about a highly skilled former Special Ops strongman who has quit the biz to hide out and live a normal life with his pre-teen daughter, Jenny (a very young Alyssa Milano, from her early "Who's the Boss?" years). But a military helicopter flies into his placid world and he's told that people seem to be systematically killing operatives he worked with. They leave two men to protect him. "Are they good men?" John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) asks. The best, he's told. But moments after the helicopter takes off again, it's Schwarzenegger who "smells" the attackers in the brush who kill one agent and wound another. From that moment, like Rambo and those Western good guys who played by the same rules as the bad guys--none--we see that Matrix IS a super-commando and watch as he is niftily separated from both the good guys and the bad. In his quest to right his world that's just been tipped precariously out of balance, Matrix is put into a situation where he has to waste both good guys and bad.

In an action-packed beginning, we see his daughter kidnapped by a group from Matrix's old unit who have gone bad and are now working for a Latin American dictator. Their assignment was to grab the girl and hold her hostage to force Matrix to fly south and kill the president so the former dictator (Dan Hedaya) could regain power.

"I'll be back," Ahhnold says in this film, along with a number of other cute lines that mimic 007's--as when he tells a flight attendant not to bother a man he's just killed and covered with a blanket and hat, because "my friend, he's dead tired." But you know, I almost wish there were more lines like that and a lighter tone, because it would have pushed this action film closer to a comic-book treatment. And that would have helped with some of the film's canyon-like lapses in logic.

I don't know what the filmmakers were thinking, unless it was to try to turn an obvious guy film full of nonstop action, explosions, and flying bullets into a date film that would appeal to females as well. But action heroes work best alone, and in "Commando" Matrix hooks up with a squeaky-voiced tag-along (Rae Dawn Chong) who first tries to get him arrested, and then has one of the biggest and quickest turnarounds in movie character history. Suddenly, she decides she's going to help him get his daughter back.

But that's not the worst example of logic being deliberately dangled over a cliff and dropped. Driving in a little convertible at high speeds and without any apparent seat-belt restraints, Matrix and Cindy (Chong) slam head-on into a telephone pole. Not even a comic beat passes before Matrix says to her, "Are you okay?" and the two of them hop out of the car as if they had just parked by a hot dog stand by the Santa Monica Pier. Seeing this, you can't help but feel a little whiplash. Even viewers who love action films and are normally forgiving of this sort of thing will notice that the realistic tone doesn't always match the comic-book treatment. In another example of that sort of gap, one of the bad guys rips a door off a furnace. No "ow" or no burns. He acts as if it wouldn't even be hot. Later, in a good-guy vs. bad-guy fight to the death, he's thrown against a high-voltage panel and jiggles like a body that's just been electrocuted on death row. Then he pops off the panel and acts as if nothing happened. Huh?

We won't even get into how convenient it seems that Ahhnold has a limitless supply of ammunitions, and seems to find bigger weapons to use just by looking down, the way the rest of us regular people might notice a dime on the sidewalk and think, "Woo-hoo!"

That, really, is my biggest beef with "Commando." The filmmakers seemed caught on the fence between a comic-style action film and a reality-based action film, and couldn't decide which way to go. The result, to continue that analogy, is a bit of a "wedgie." In the bonus materials, everyone talks about how campy it is, and I can see plenty of campy moments (including a cloyingly cute "Snow White" montage of Ahhnold and Alyssa engaged in father-daughter bonding and smiling or laughing, with at least one "Kindergarten Cop" moment). And it's certainly a page torn right out of James Bond to have Matrix find his way out of a commercial airliner, dangle from a wheel, and drop hundreds of feet into marshland (then bounce up with only splotches of water on his jacket!). But there were also realistic moments too. The best way to enjoy this film is to just relax and consider the whole thing to be one great big campy, comic-book farce.

"Commando" is rated R for violence up the wazoo and one very brief scene that has background nudity.

"Commando" (1985) shows its age, with considerable graininess in some scenes and flickers of dirt or scratches on the film in others. Even the colors look not as fully saturated as the might have once been. Only in shots like "mayhem at the mall" do you see plenty of color. "Commando" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and is stretched to fill out the entire viewing area on a 16x9 television set. I can't compare it to the previous release, because I don't have access to it, but I'd describe the picture as decent, not good or great.

The featured soundtrack is a 5.1 Dolby Surround, with additional options in English 3.0 Dolby Surround, French 2.0 Stereo, and Spanish 1.0 Mono. Subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish. The soundtrack is more solid than the video-especially the 5.1 track, which scatters plenty of rounds of ammunition across your TV viewing area. There's plenty of pop and zip in the 5.1 track and a nice timbre. Not so much in the others.

Included is a full-color sheet that lists the 28 scene-selection chapters and a few photos from the film.

Viewers can choose from the original theatrical version or this director's cut. After you make your selection, you get a menu that's identical except for the added footage (which is rolled into the film on the director's cut, and listed as a bonus feature on the theatrical version). The director's cut wasn't a very brave one. All that was added was an extended tool shed fight, Matrix talking about raising his daughter, and two alternate lines in scenes. It doesn't add much to the final product, in other words.

On a commentary track that's pretty decent except for long pauses and silences, director Mark Lester tells how "Commando" is his favorite of all 28 films he's directed, and reinforces the farcical elements throughout. But he's at his best when he's telling tales on Ahhnold, as when he talks about how funny the man is, or how uncharacteristically scared he was the night before filming.

In addition to still galleries that include 160+ images, there are three deleted scenes, one of which, had Lester chosen to leave it in, would have seemed an absolute rip-off of "First Blood." In it, a general warns a guy at the mall not to send people after Matrix. "You don't know who you're dealing with," he says, and proceeds to practically quote Richard Crenna's speech from "Rambo." It's better left out. We can already see the similarities.

Rounding out the extras are two featurettes that are actually pretty well done. One focuses on the making-of aspects and action, the other on Schwarzenegger and his take on the character.

Bottom Line:
If you ignore the gigantic lapses in logic, the extraneous female character, and the ending that's a chain-reaction of one farcical thing after another, "Commando" is pretty vintage Schwarzenegger--the kind of film that people think about when they harbor those deep feelings that maybe this is the guy who can clean up our state . . . or country.


Film Value