Mark L. Lester
Arnold Schwarzenegger - John Matrix
Rae Dawn Chong - Cindy
Alyssa Milano - Jenny
James Olson - General Kirby
Dan Hedaya - Arius
Vernon Wells - Bennett
Bill Duke - Cooke
David Patrick Kelly - Sully
Genre - Action
Running Time - 90 Minutes
* THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DURING THE LAST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER FOR BACK ONLINE, BACK ON DUTY's "YEAH! GUNS 'N SHIT! 80s ACTION WEEK *
First of all, I want to thank Mr. Eric King for begging me to help him out with this Yeah! Guns 'n Shit! 80s Action Week theme he's doing. As some of you know, my blog Full Moon Reviews is currently at its end of SEQUEL SEPTEMBER, and Eric contributed a review for 1989's THE FLY II.
...After I had reviewed THE FLY II myself. Looks like someone was trying to upstage me. Whatevs.
Anyway, Eric needed me to contribute to his...cute little theme. I would only do it unless I was able to write about 1985's COMMANDO. I don't know if anyone had the film before me, but it didn't matter. Eric was desperate and knew my presence would give his theme week some credibility.
You're welcome, Eric.
Since I find desperation unattractive, I shrugged and said "whatever". So here I am, ready to make his Yeah! Guns 'n Shit! 80s Action Week mean something with my thoughts on COMMANDO.
You're welcome again, Eric.
So COMMANDO...yes, the action extravaganza that's probably the epitome of 80s Action along with 1988's DIE HARD with Bruce Willis. COMMANDO has it all - guns, hot chicks, foreign villains, explosions, one-liners, and the very charismatic presence of one Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, COMMANDO is the film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger the marketable action star he would become and still is. You think bodybuilding did it? You believe wielding a sword and wearing a loincloth made it happen? You're probably too blind searching for Sarah Connor to realize that COMMANDO made Arnold Schwarzenegger the man. And he did it by shooting shit up while doing his classic stand up routine. COMMANDO is 80s Action!
So COMMANDO goes down like this:
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a former leader of a commando team named John Matrix [coolest last name ever], who has retired with his young daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano) in the California mountains. His former General, Kirby (James Olson), unfortunately interrupts Matrix's retirement by informing him that the men who worked under Matrix have been murdered. Minutes after Matrix is placed "under protection", they're killed as the bad guys invade Matrix's property. Jenny hides, but Matrix goes into his shed - which is really an underground bunker full of weapons. While Matrix tries to take out the bad guys, Matrix's nemesis named Bennett (Vernon Wells) kidnaps Jenny. Apparently without realizing Who's The Boss or understanding that the Power of Three would set her free, Jenny is pretty much helpless. Damn kids...
Matrix is kidnapped by the villains, now following a former South American leader named Arius (Dan Hedaya) - who is as CLUELESS here as he would be ten years later. Arius wants Matrix to murder the current leader so he can gain power again in exchange for Jenny. Realizing that Arius and Bennett have no plans to keep Jenny alive whether he does the job or not, Matrix takes matters into his own hands and plans on getting revenge on his foes by waging a personal war.
Let's get this out of the way - COMMANDO isn't a perfect movie. The focus is scattershot at times. The acting isn't great most of the time. And the story is pretty bare-bones and doesn't have much substance going for it. I've read and heard reviews for this film, all putting COMMANDO down for these reasons alone - claiming its reputation is overrated. You know what I say to that?
Who in the hell is expecting Academy Award caliber direction, acting, and screenwriting in an 80s action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger?? COMMANDO may not be the smartest film out there, but it's one of the most fun you could ever watch! It's like a live-action cartoon or a comic book come to life - one you can escape to when the troubles of real life get you down.
The story may not be deep, but it's simple enough to understand and be emphatic enough where you want Matrix to shoot the shit out of these bastards who kidnapped his daughter. The characters truly enhance the narrative, as they all have stereotypical 80s personalities that are fun to watch. John Matrix is the epitome of an action hero. He used to be in the military. He would rather be with his daughter than fight bad guys. And when his daughter is taken, he does whatever he can to punish the people behind it. The guy has not met a weapon he doesn't know how to use. And when he does hurt his victims, he's does it in a charming way. How can one not like this guy?
Even the main bad guy, Bennett, is charming for an sadistic asshole. All he cares about is hurting Matrix due to issues in their military past, not concerning himself with logic in how to make that happen. He also has no issues wanting to murder little girls, just because he finds murder fun. He's your typical 80s bad guy, but he enjoys his job. So you enjoy it with him.
The other villains also bring their own flavor to COMMANDO. Arius is the stereotypical foreign villain who has a military protecting him and uses blackmail to gain power. Cooke is the silent muscle of the group, using his actions to speak for him. And Sully is the horny sleazeball who gets one of the more memorable exits. And then you have all the soldiers who are there just to get shot to shit - like all 80s villainous soldiers should be.
The women also have their place in the film other than being the typical girlfriend/eye-candy role. Cindy is caught in Matrix's mess, due to Sully trying to pick her up to her non-interest. She plays the confused victim until she realizes Matrix is one of the good guys and becomes his sidekick. She flies planes. She uses rocket launchers after testing them out backwards first. She uses her feminine wiles to distract the enemy. And did I mention she's played by RAE DAWN CHONG?? She added sex appeal to BEAT STREET. She made C. Thomas Howell do blackface in SOUL MAN. She made the violent school system watchable in THE PRINCIPAL. And she made me want to date a gargoyle in TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE. She never becomes Matrix's girlfriend in COMMANDO, but she's definitely his worthy accomplice and aids him when he needs it the most.
And Jenny is definitely her father's daughter. She's tough, spunky, and will take initiative in saving her own ass. Finally a child character I can get behind, especially when she got older. But that's another story for another time. So the story may not be rich, but the characters are.
And how can these cinema snobs hate the beautiful one-liners in COMMANDO? This action film is the king of one-liners.
*Matrix dangling Sully over a cliff*
Matrix: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?
Sully: That's right, Matrix! You did!
Matrix: I lied.
*Drops Sully to his death*
*Fighting former Green Beret, Cooke*
Matrix: I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!
*Kills an enemy on a plane*
Matrix: Don't disturb my friend. He's dead tired.
There are so many more in the film, but the screenwriters really did a great job bringing some fun to a silly action film. It's pretty self-aware of itself without having the characters wink at the audience about it. It's what keeps COMMANDO timeless in my opinion.
The action scenes are also very memorable. The final act is fantastic. Matrix shoots the hell out of Arius' soldiers - all 30 of them - which leads to Matrix shooting the shit out of Arius himself, which then leads to the conclusion and long awaited mano-a-mano battle between Matrix and Bennett over Jenny's life. It's twenty minutes of action that builds and builds, never letting up. CLASS OF 1984 and FIRESTARTER director, Mark L. Lester, did an awesome job pacing the climax of the film, as it breezes by and makes you excited for each subsequent shot. In fact, Lester keeps the short 90-minute runtime moving without the pace slowing down once. It's not the most stylish film, but it doesn't have to be. It's watchable as hell and great popcorn entertainment. That's all I want in an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle.
I think the most memorable action scene is within the mall. Maybe DAWN OF THE DEAD and VALLEY GIRL made malls cool for some people, but COMMANDO made malls cool for me. Watching Matrix swing over rails and beat the crap out of security guards puts a smile on my face each time. Watching security guards flirt with teenage girls, call Matrix "one gigantic motherfucker", and then get shot to shit makes me laugh. And watching Matrix body slam a phone booth with Sully trying to make a call inside is just fucking awesome. Why didn't more 80s action films have their stars wrestle around with phone booths? With cell phones now, what a lost opportunity! That's what makes Arnold Schwarzenegger in COMMANDO number one!
And I forgot how violent this film really is! Watching the Director's Cut, COMMANDO really turns into a gory film. A ton of people get shot by Arnold while he flexes his massive pecs [no wonder that maid wanted his love child]. A police vehicle gets blown up by a rocket launcher. We get people getting impaled by sharp objects, my favorites being a pipe and a rake. We get buzzsaws thrown at people, with one actually scalping their victim. We get a machete cutting an arm. And we get explosions, explosions, explosions - all presented nine times in the same angle for emphasis. I miss the 1980s...
The acting is pretty bad by everyone involved - hell, I think Alyssa Milano is the best actor here! But that's what gives COMMANDO its charm. Schwarzenegger was never the best action actor in terms of thespian work, but he's believable in any role in which he kicks someone's ass, shoots them to shit, and has to deliver funny one-liners. He gets who he is and embraces it, which is why I love the guy. Rae Dawn Chong is kind of annoying here, but she's sexy as hell and has great banter with Schwarzenegger. I like her a lot, even with her flaws. Vernon Wells is over the top as Bennett, and is awesome at doing so. He's having fun with the role. I'm having fun with the role. He's a great physical match with Schwarzenegger too and I believed his sadistic nature. Dan Hedaya is great as the foreign villain. He has enough body hair to pull it off [those eyebrows!]. David Patrick Kelly is awesome as always as the slimy bastard who deserves whatever is coming to him. Bill Duke is intimidating as the silent Cooke, staring at us with his deadpan stare. And we get a BILL PAXTON sighting as an Intercept Officer! He's only in the film for a minute, but that's one minute more than most films that don't star Bill "The Man" Paxton. Dude is too cool for school.
And a special shout out to composer James Horner for his tribal, bohemian score. Love the tropical sounds he added to the film. Those drums pump you up for some 80s action for sure. And can't forget Power Station's "We Fight For Love" during the end credits. That's what modern movies are missing - 80s songs during their end credits. That'll entice me to stay watching after the film is long over.
Seriously, COMMANDO is the Shit! It's got action coming out of its ass. It's got funny one-liners that people still remember 27 years later. It's got Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles while he kills close to a hundred people in this film. Sure the plot is just there, the dialogue is cheesy, and the action is implausible. BUT THAT'S WHY IT WORKS! Grab your buddies or your woman, kick back with some beer and popcorn, and have fun with this kind of an action film they just don't make anymore. If there was ever an Action Movies Hall of Fame, COMMANDO would be its first inductee without a doubt. And if you have an issue with this, you need to let off some steam, Bennett.