An action classic that my parents taped off television and that I watched repeatedly as a child, Commando was and is still one of my favourite action films of all time. Back when I was growing up under the influence of such demented action films, I even had the Commando action figure with a little plastic Arnold Schwarzenegger figurine that came with a comic-book re-telling of the movie though sanitized of the movie’s violence for the under-13 year old market for the toy, which is funny as the movie is totally made for 13 year old boys. It’s an awesomely bullshit action movie that doesn’t mess around with complex characterisation or plot (i.e. a minimum of “boring” scenes). It’s basically 87 minutes of Arnie running around in on a race-against-time to rescue his kidnapped daughter (Alyssa Milano) from some bad guys who want him to assassinate the president of a tin-pot country. Y’see, Arnie led a Special Forces squad that made enemies all over the world and the pre-credit sequence has his ex-men being picked off one by one. As soon as Arnie’s former commander, General Kirby helicopters to his isolated mountain home with two men to protect him and then leaves after this warning, the bad guys strike with excessive machine gun fire. This movie doesn’t mess around! Now a disposed Latin American dictator (Dan Hedaya) wants to reclaim power and is using Arnie’s daughter to do this (great scene where he asks her “Wouldn’t it be nice to see your daddy again?” and she says “Yeah, when he smashes your face in!”). Arnie escapes the clutches of his foes by breaking the neck of his guard on the airplane, makes it look like the dead guy is sleeping by sticking a blanket over him (quipping “Don’t disturb my friend, he’s dead tired!”), and then jumps off the wheel of the plane. Before long, he’s grabbed an airhead stewardess (Rae Dawn Chong) to help him, joining his quest of fucking shit up in the name of fatherly love. The rest of the movie is Arnie running around, punching dudes out, throwing them off mountains, robbing a gun-shop with a bulldozer, and then invading a small island in the climax where they are keeping his daughter hostage and where he massacres an entire army single-handedly.
This is back in the good old days of the 1980s where Arnie was still making viciously violent movies in the period after Terminator made him a star and before he became a warm and cuddly mainstream icon with Twins and Junior and Jingle All The Way. Produced by Joel Silver, Commando is a prototypical 1980s action movie where all the bad guys are minorities, all the women are beautiful bimbos, and the one-liners are memorably corny, with even room to include Arnie’s catch-phrases like “I’ll be back” and “Trust me.” Not to mention the tell tale sign of a bullshit action movie... unbelievable hero names! Did I forget to say Arnie’s character is called John Matrix. I guess John Grenade or John Supersoldier would have been too obvious.
Classic bullshit scenes come thick and fast throughout this flick. The title credit montage has one of the greatest images ever, conveying the happiness Matrix and his daughter live in, with the postcard image of Arnie kneeling, smiling like a goofball, helping his daughter feed a young deer! HEARTWARMING! Then you have the aforementioned dialogue such as when Arnie gets the drop on the bad guy sleazeball Sully (David Patrick Kelly of The Warriors) who Arnie holds over a ravine in the attempt to obtain information about where his daughter is:
MATRIX: “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?”
SULLY: “That’s right, Matrix, you did!”
MATRIX: “I lied.”
Then Arnie drops him to his death. Then he busts into a hotel room to have a fist fight with another bad guy, the bad-ass named Cooke (Bill Duke of Predator):
COOKE: “You scared mothefucker? Well, you should be, because this Green Beret is going to kick your ass!”
MATRIX: “I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry!”
And then Arnie punches him into another hotel room where a young couple are fucking (gratuitous nudity is a Joel Silver staple). The action sequences throughout, from the attack on Arnie’s home where he rushes off to his secret shed filled with automatic weapons, to the brawl in a shopping mall where eight security guards rush him and he throws them all off at the same time like’s he the fucking Hulk! Then the sequence where Arnie crashes into a surplus store and loads up on shells, grenades, weapons, and flip-flops is like Gun and Ammo porn for all the Soldiers of Fortune subscribers out there. Every now and then there will be a scene with General Kirby at the aftermath of all this destruction with some dialogue that testifies to Arnie’s brilliance:
SOLDIER: “What can we expect, sir?”
KIRBY: “World War III.”
World War III is what we get when Arnie and Rae Dawn Chong steal a two-prop plane and land near the island where Arnie blows away every swarthy military man extra in sight, which is a total massacre that Arnie only receives two superficial wounds after having killed two hundred soldiers, never missing with the dozen machine guns he has. There’s even a scene where he gets trapped in a shed and uses garden implements to decapitate and maim more soldiers. HANDYMAN ACTION!
Acting-wise, Arnie is Arnie. You know what to expect. Alyssa Milano is basically Punky Brewster in this. Rae Dawn Chong is hilariously annoying, a woman who whines constantly after being kdnapped by Arnie, comes to believe in his cause and helps him to the point by becoming bait to sleazeballs that Arnie fucks up. Dan Hedaya plays the dictator with an accent that makes him sound like Peter Sellars in The Party. However, the movie is stolen by Australian’s own Vernon Wells (of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) who plays Bennett, a bad guy who must be seen to be believed. A former member of Matrix’s unit but was kicked out because he liked the violence too much, Bennett looks like Freddie Mercury with a thick moustache, close-cropped hair and a penchant for wearing chain-mail over his flabby gut. Now Vernon Wells is hilarious enough with his Aussie accent (when Matrix says “I’ll be back, Bennett”, he replies wryly, “Oi, John... I’ll be waiting, John.”). However, everything he says is tainted with this blatant homoeroticism as if Arnie was his former lover. This reaches boiling point in the climactic fight between Bennett and Arnie in a boiler room basement with Bennett holding Arnie’s daughter hostage after having shot Arnie in the arm. So, Bennett has the drop on him, but Arnie wisely convinces him to engage in a knife-fight instead:
MATRIX: “You can beat me... You want to put the knife in me. Look me in the eyes. See what’s going on in there while you turn it. That’s what you want to do to me, right? Come on, let the girl go. You and me. Don’t deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on, Bennett: Let’s Party!”
Through this speech, the film keeps cutting to Bennett quivering in sadistic, orgasmic delight at the concept of sticking it into Arnie. And if this wasn’t enough, did I mention that Arnie kills Bennett by throwing a pipe into his body, stabbing him into a pressure cooker. “LET OFF SOME STEAM, BENNETT.” This homoerotic quality is a testament to the action genre’s assertion of right wing dogma, characterising the bad guy as a leather-wearing stereotype of 1980s Gay Culture, but then letting the camera fawn all over Arnie’s oily muscles whenever it gets the chance, producing a thoroughly confusing if not compelling comment on sexual difference. Anyway, daughter is reunited with father after witnessing such a shockingly violent sight and along with the airhead stewardess they walk into the surf with the cheesy end credits anthem by Power Station, ‘We Fight For Love.’
Sit back, turn off your brain, and strap yourself in for a perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger Joel Silver action special.
Bullshit Movies Extra Features: A group of us screened Commando once again for the benefit of someone who hadn’t seen it and here are some memorable comments made throughout.
1) Scene of Arnie carrying a log on his shoulders
ERIKA: ‘Is that a real log?’
ERIKA: ‘Why would you carry that?’
DAN: ‘Because he can!’
2) Scene of Arnie teaching his daughter how to perform martial arts in the credit sequence
DAN: 'Yeah, we get that he loves his daughter.’
3) Scene of Bennett walking around with his chain-mail on.
SEYMOUR: ‘Look, he’s wearing it in public!’
4) Shot of Bennett in leather pants.
DAN: ‘This really is a gay movie.’
5) Scene where Bill Duke says to Arnie “fuck you” and Arnie replies in a camp fashion “fuck you, asshole”
ERIKA: ‘That’s so gay... [shot of naked women in the next hotel room] Oh my god, look at the size of her tits!’
6) Scene where Arnie rips open a chain lock on a fence
DAN: ‘Yeah, we get it, guys. He’s fucking strong.’
7) Shot of Arnie putting the brake on the bulldozer he’s used to smash into a gunshop
SEYMOUR: ‘He put the handbrake on the bulldozer... Didn’t want it roll away and make a scene’
8) Shots of Arnie taking lots of guns into a shopping trolley
SEYMOUR: ‘This is some Reaganite shit’
9)Scene where Arnie sets a C4 claymore that explodes a building into a gigantic fireball.
SEYMOUR: “Those claymores have a few ball bearings in them.”
10) Shot of Bennett chasing after Arnie’s daughter
DAN: “He’s so fat and weird.’
11) Many shots of soldiers being wasted by Arnie.
ERIKA: ‘These guys suck.’
12) Arnie hides behind a statue during a shoot-out.
SEYMOUR: ‘I’d love it if it was a statue of Jesus.’
13) Shot of Bennett during Arnie’s speech about sticking the knife into him.
ERIKA: ‘Oh my god! He’s actually having an orgasm!’
14) Scene where Arnie throws a pipe into and through Bennett
SEYMOUR: ‘There is no way that could have happened. The laws of physics are pretty against him.’