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Commando (1985) August 12, 2004

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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COMMANDO

A Film Review by Dragan Antulov

Copyright Dragan Antulov 1998

One of the things that should make movie fans less nostalgic about 1980s aren’t “teenage slasher” horrors. The real killers among products of movie industry in that decade were so-called “ramboids”, movies inspired by the meteoric success of Stallone’s FIRST BLOOD PART 2. That story about lone U.S. Special Forces man that manages to single-handedly destroy entire Vietnamese army was the product of Reagan years and actually served as a substitute for U.S. victory in Vietnam War. However, Stallone’s stunts in that film inspired hundreds of cheap imitations – usually such cinematic abominations that would need centuries before they get any chance of camp appeal. “Ramboids” weren’t just monstrosities in artistic sense – in case of former Yugoslavia they actually proved the theory of movies as a bad influence on real life people. After being exposed to hundreds of movies with heroes who, armed with single machinegun or a rocket launcher, manage to wipe out entire regiments of bad guys, many young people considered war to be fun and in 1991, when war erupted in Croatia, they actually volunteered go to the battlefields in droves. For many rude awakening about world where bullets don’t miraculously miss good guys, where automatic weapons have to be re-loaded and where superior firepower, training and numbers actually do matter came too late. Thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of people in body bags or wheelchairs could be counted as a indirect victims of movies inspired by RAMBO 2.

The only “ramboid” that I actually liked, and, I still like, causing certain feeling of guilt about it, is COMMANDO by Mark L. Lester, one of those rare big studio projects that jumped on RAMBO 2 bandwagon. Actually, it proved to be quite succesful vehicle for rising star of Arnold Schwarzenegger and one of the most popular action movies in that decade (that would later bring such a masterpieces as PREDATOR and DIE HARD).

The hero of the movie is Colonel John Matrix, veteran of a unnamed U.S. Special Operations unit, who has retired and lives a happy and quiet life as a logger together with his pre-teen daughter Jenny. The idyllic life is interrupted by a bunch of thugs, including his former psychopatic subordinate Bennet, who kidnap his daughter. The move was orchestrated by Arius, exiled dictator of a remote Latin American country who wants to return to power and Matrix must kill the sitting president in a exchange for his daughter’s life. However, knowing that he deals with anything but an honest people he escapes from ascending plane, knowing that he has only 11 hours before the plane lands and Arius finds that he changed his mind. Matrix begins the race against the time and tries to find the location of terrorist base, with the attractive stewardess Cindy as his only help.

One of the reason why COMMANDO beats RAMBO 2 is in a approach. While director Pal Cosmatos, writer James Cameron and Stallone used impressive, but utterly unrealistic visual and other attractions of “one- man-army” concept as a tool for certain political message, Schwarzenegger, writer Steven E. De Souza (author of DIE HARD) and director Mark L. Lester (whose work on COMMANDO is probably his best) considered all that special forces mumbo-jumbo as an excuse for escapist pulp fiction fun. Schwarzenegger, who had already created an image of invincible hero/killing machine in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981) and THE TERMINATOR (1984) actually tried to give some new elements to his own character (East German background as an attempt to give plausible explanation for his accent). But, he also finished the creation of his on-screen Schwarzenegger personality, including his famous one-liners and very specific, sometimes very cruel sense of humour. His lines, usually given before the killing of the bad guys, are probably the best remembered element of this movie.

Almost everything in this movie is deliberately over the top. That also includes the small army of brilliant character actors in the roles of Arius and his henchmen. Vernon Welles, who was, until that time best known as Mad Max’s nemesis in THE ROAD WARRIOR is, despite his huge physical presence, overshadowed by Bill Duke and Dan Hedaya. But his final showdown with Schwarzenegger is quite impressive, anyway. The good guys are under-represented (small roles of Bill Paxton and Chelsea Fields are almost un-noticeable), but Rae Dawn Chong as Cindy, displaying entertaining combination of “damsel in distress” and tough chick that gives this movie brilliant comic relief.

COMMANDO is hardly a masterpiece, suffering mostly from the uninspired soundtrack by James Horner (mostly re-write of his work in 48 HRS) and the song that beats Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” in “the cheasiest song of all times” category. Editing is sub-par in the final showdown scenes, but only the most fanatical nitpickers would find such fatal flaws. In its 90 minutes of non-stop action, COMMANDO manages to achieve its goal – to entertain the audience. And, sometimes, that fact is enough to consider the movie good.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

Review written on May 3rd 1998

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