Director : Mark L. Lester
Screenplay : Steven E. de Souza (story by Joseph Loeb III & Matthew Weisman and Steven E. de Souza)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1985
Stars : Arnold Schwarzenegger (John Matrix), Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), Dan Hedaya (Arius), Vernon Wells (Bennett), James Olson (Gen. Franklin Kirby), David Patrick Kelly (Sully), Alyssa Milano (Jenny Matrix), Bill Duke (Cooke), Drew Snyder (Lawson), Sharon Wyatt (Leslie)
On any level above that of red-faced guilty pleasure, there is simply no way to defend Commando. A gloriously primitive and cartoonish action vehicle for star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commando makes no bones about its abject absurdity. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than a simple-minded exercise in vicarious violence, and if the film could be said to have a charm, that is it. Its heart and soul is best summarized by a line of dialogue when a woman, while watching two of the film's uber-macho behemoths engaged in mano-a-mano fisticuffs, exclaims, “These guys eat too much red meat!”
In many ways, Commando helped to forge and solidify the Schwarzenegger action-movie persona, which for many is reason enough to despise the film. At the time, the former Mr. Universe was known primarily as either a loin-cloth-clad barbarian or a cyborg from the future. He had already uttered his first immortal catchphrase--“I'll be back”--in The Terminator (1984), and Commando immediately announces its self-aware silliness when Schwarzenegger, now playing a former U.S. Army commando named John Martix, repeats the line to the film's primary villain. It is one of many, many one-liners, puns, and groaners peppered throughout the film, which makes self-consciously bad lines of dialogue second in volume only to the number of bullets fired during the film's scant 90-minute runtime.
The story is set in motion when Matrix's 12-year-old daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano during her Who's the Boss? days), is kidnapped by a deposed Latin American dictator named Arius (Dan Hedaya, effectively slimy even with a lousy accent). Arius's right-hand man and chief heavy is Bennett (Vernon Wells, channeling the same feverishly obsessive mania that defined his mohawked barbarian in The Road Warrior), who used to be one of Matrix's comrades, but is now a mercenary for hire. Arius wants to force Matrix into assassinating a political rival, but Matrix escapes and sets out on a rescue mission. He doesn't know where Jenny is being held, so a large portion of the film involves his trying to discover her whereabouts while the clock ticks on her life.
Matrix enlists the unwilling aid of a flight attendant named Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), who is at first terrified of Matrix, but is later won over by his dedication to his daughter and becomes his accomplice. She also plays the role of hysterical straight woman to Schwarzenegger's stoic he-man, with her primary objective being to represent how the majority of us would act in such bizarre circumstances, which is central to the film's better moments of high-tension comedy.
Director Mark L. Lester (Class of 1984) serves his action spectacle straight-up, with little in the way of aesthetic flourish or emotional bracketing. He recognizes in Schwarzenegger a primal screen presence that needs little accoutrement, so he allows the action hero to bulldoze his way through the narrative (and literally through a sporting goods store at one point). Matrix is less a character than a force of nature, and the cutesy scenes at the beginning of the film that are meant to establish his loving fatherly nature with Jenny play as high camp; they're impossible to take seriously. Matrix only makes sense when he's armed to the teeth with enormous machine guns, blasting his way through dozens of enemies like a video game running on its own volition. The movie's breathless pursuit of such spectacle is simple, but effective, leaving only bodies and smoke in its wake.
|Commando Director's Cut DVD|
|This DVD contains both the original theatrical cut of Commando, as well as a new Director's Cut.|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 18, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Commando's new anamorphic widescreen transfer looks extremely good, making it a significant improvement over the previously available disc that was released back in 1999. The image is strong and well-detailed, with vibrant, natural colors and just enough grain to give it a filmlike appearance. The newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is appropriately bombastic, with good directionality and a solid low-end to give the film's many action sequences a real aural presence. James Horner's heavily synthesized score is also given added depth and kick.|
|Director Mark L. Lester provides an enthusiastic screen-specific audio commentary in which provides lots of detail about the production (the how's, why's, and where's), while also throwing in a few jaw-dropping nuggets, such as when he says he based the opening shots of Schwarzenegger on Leni Riefenstahl films. “Commando: Pure Action” is a surprisingly robust 15-minute retrospective featurette about the making of the film and, ahem, its lasting influence. The filmmakers managed to round up an impressive array of participants, including Lester (who humbly asserts right off that bat that Commando is the “quintessential '80s action film that started the whole trend of action films”), writers Joseph Loeb III and Steven E. de Souza, and actors Rae Dawn Chong, Bill Duke, and Vernon Wells. In addition to the new interviews, it includes a healthy dollop of behind-the-scenes footage during the production and on-set interviews with Schwarzenegger. Alas, this is the only place you will see the Governator himself, as he was clearly too busy governing to reminisce about making one of his first major films. “Let Off Some Steam” (7 min.) features all the same interview subjects talking about how the film's primary strength is that it doesn't take itself seriously. There is also a rather amusing side discussion about the film's numerous gay undertones and some barely disguised ruminations of Arnold's, um, “equipment.” “Added Footage” allows you to watch the extra footage that was included in the “Director's Cut,” which includes a couple of alternate lines, Matrix talking about raising his daughter, and a slightly gorier version of the tool shed fight. There are also three additional deleted bits--“Mall Aftermath,” “Freeze!,” and “Bennett's Death” (which features half a dozen alternate Schwarzenegger post-mortem puns)--that didn't make it into the extended version of the film. Four galleries offer dozens of production stills, but unfortunately they work as a preset slideshow with music so you can't look at them at your own pace.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment