Directed by Mark L. Lester
John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a retired United States Army Special Forces colonel now living peacefully with his daughter in the mountains but when those he’s tangled with in the past capture his daughter and try to force him to assassinate a Latin American president he must escape from their clutches and rescue his daughter before they find out he has not carried out the plot.
Only in America could an Austrian born muscle man with a very thick accent become the cinematic projection of American might and power throughout the world. Somehow Arnold Schwarzenegger made it work. This is truly a glorious nation.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a unique screen presence. He just comes on the screen and for lack of a better word overpowers you into liking what he is doing. He has a unique charm and charisma which was especially effective back in the 80s. The only other person I can think of that has done something similar would be John Wayne. And he also personified America in his day. We live in a hell of a country.
The character of John Matrix was just a super soldier. He was a one-man army. I know that was pretty common back then in action movies, but nobody did it better than Arnold Schwarzenegger. They just keep coming at him and he takes them out one after the other.
My favorite scene in this movie and quite possibly just about any Schwarzenegger film is the scene towards the very end where he is in the shed on the villain’s island lair. All of the soldiers know he’s in that shed and fire straight ahead. They are a little better than waist high in their aim because obviously this dude that just infiltrated their island and set of more explosives than used in WWII would not be smart enough to duck or anything.
Then Matrix bursts out the door and uses sawblades like throwing stars. Throwing star circular sawblades! This was the butt end of the 80s ninja trend in movies and television and I suppose the sawblades was an indication of it.
John Matrix is the soldier’s soldier. He is better than the best. He is an intelligent killing machine that quickly turns into a loving father and sensitive human being. (See the opening credits. He and his daughter are feeding a deer. WTF!)
This is perhaps one of the weirder soundtracks for an action film. It is steel drums and it sounds like it belongs in a story set on a tropical island and not in an action film. The music sounds like it would be more at home in a forgettable 80s romantic comedy and not in a movie about a one-man army trying to save his daughter. I know this discussion is well worn territory but it’s just so weird, but it also somehow works. James Horner did so many much great film music. The man had a real gift, and this is no different.
Rae Dawn Chong as flight attendant and conveniently pilot-in-training Cindy has a career highlight here. She’s the comic relief to Schwarzenegger’s serious testosterone driven character. Her conveniently being a pilot is just one of those things you must accept in an action film from then.
Cindy is not all damsel in distress or convenient plot device. She is actually useful. She has some knowledge that the main character doesn’t, and she even manages to save him at one point in a very 80s way by using a rocket launcher. If you took a moment out to think you would realize just how bad of an idea that is but in a movie with A-Team level logic it works.
It was years before I knew that Bennett (Vernon Wells) was played by the same guy from Mad Max 2. You can hear it in the voice but in the physical portrayal you cannot. He was also in a third movie that I enjoyed called Circuitry Man. Again, I did not know that it was all the same guy for the longest time. He really transformed himself between each role. He gave each one something very different to the point you couldn’t easily link each as being done by the same actor. That is real talent there.
Bennett is all hammy villain here. His character really believes Arnold Schwarzenegger is essentially Superman. He chews up every scene he is in with ridiculously menacing dialogue either about the situation or about what John Matrix will do and he does this ridiculous crazy eye thing. Vernon Wells was amazing here.
Dan Hedaya is a one of the great character actors. He is a genuinely talented individual. He played the scummy ex-husband on Cheers. He played a comedic take on Richard Nixon. He was in the Sylvester Stallone action film Daylight. There was a point in film history when he was just everywhere, and he never sucked. To say I get excited when I see that he’s in a movie or TV show might be a bit of an over statement but it does mean that there will be at least one good performance in what I am watching.
Here he is Arius (though I have trouble remembering if they actually use that name in the movie) who is the slimy deposed dictator of one of those vaguely located Latin American countries that appeared in so many films during the 1980s. The place is a poverty-stricken shit hole, but John Matrix freed it from the dictator. Arius even has an island lair with highly disposable soldiers to be killed in the explosion addled ending. Based on the number of corpses Matrix created you really need to ask why Arius needed Matrix for this assassination. Why not just go with his own forces?
Alyssa Milano plays the daughter Jenny. I believe this was her first movie role. She is all stereotypical teen spunk of the era with a mouth on her in addition to capabilities proportionally equivalent to her superhuman dad. Whatever happened to the mom? There’s no talk of divorce or her not wanting to take the secret identity that they live under because John was spraying lead across the planet. She is like those Disney parents that never seem to actually have existed.
The action is strong in this movie. Back in the 80s they knew how to do action films. The scenes have an almost cartoonish quality to them, but they also really energize you. They toss in plenty of WTF moments that make you hungry for more.
This is one of my top 10 action movies of all time. It is a genuine classic of the genre and one of the top five films by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is definitely worth a watch. It is unapologetically all testosterone and all action in a way that cannot be duplicated currently. You will love this movie.