Commando (1985) — In which Arnold kills a small country

“I’ll be back, Bennett.”

Justin’s rating: Well, no wonder why Californians respect him!

Justin’s review: One man. Five thousand pounds of military hardware. And a whole island full of easy-to-shoot bad guys. That was Christmas for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1985. He was a very, very good boy that year.

It’s terribly easy – and quite enjoyable – to go back and laugh at the over-the-top ridiculous Commando action sequences. This is the stuff that prompted parodies such as Hot Shots! Part Deux to forever slander the decent name of the 1980s Hollywood action hero. But back in the day, Commando was the type of film that gave every 12-year-old kid who snuck in to see it the sweaty thrill of a massive body count, groan-worthy kill puns, and an unstoppable force levied against the mighty evil that was Dan Hedaya.

Never mind the abysmal levels of acting, Justin declares! Ignore the logic centers of your brain as they boggle at every incredible coincidence that erupts from Commando’s screenwriters’ typewriters! This is a film to be enjoyed on its most base, goofy level – the perfect movie for someone who needs something to blow up, someone to die, and someone to make a macabre joke at the deceased’s expense.

Following Conan and Terminator, Schwarzenegger cemented his legacy as action king by playing John Matrix, an ex-commando who goes all levels of berserk when his former teammates are assassinated and his daughter kidnapped (all part of a “please don’t examine it too closely” scheme to get him to fly to another country and kill a foreign leader). Because the his teeming mass of muscle won’t allow failure, Matrix stabs, punches and shoots his way to victory – and nevermind the civilian bodycount.

Along the way, Matrix kidnaps/enlists the help of a flight attendant (and – plot point! – pilot in training) named Cindy, who I will pit against any contender for the crown of shrillest female sidekick in history. For one thing, Rae Dawn Chong employs a level of acting for Cindy that should’ve prompted the casting director to holler “NEXT!” and then shove her out the door. Instead, she stuck around to be a wildly unconvincing girl playing the part of the Greek chorus, reacting to all of Matrix’s outrageous stunts with the sort of tone your mom might use to call you home for dinner. It also doesn’t help that she goes from being a sort-of traumatized kidnapee to willing accomplice in the space of a scene or two for no reason other than she was shot at and Arnold gives a monotonous plea for the life of his daughter.

Commando’s well-known for Arnold’s one-liners and the kills that often precede them. That Cindy is not one of these deaths is probably the only reason why it was robbed at the Oscars. In any case, Arnold built an empire off of this formula, to the point where you think bad guys would start picking on wimpy, stick-thin men instead of a guy that’s trained to kill you with his little pinky and has a ‘roid problem on top of that.

It does me good to go back and watch these kinds of movies – as silly as they can be, I can’t help but feel the 12-year-old in me giggle at John Matrix’s “He’s DEAD tired.” And I’ll wager that today, this would be a terrific choice for a party where you and some friends could snark it to death (I couldn’t help doing my lousy Arnold voice for various moments).

Didja notice?

  • Those guys are not very covert for assassins, are they?
  • “Girl” George, ha ha ha
  • Ice cream, feeding a deer, fishing, wood chopping, swimming, karate – that’s one busy day!
  • The bad guy wears chainmail. Um, why?
  • Great job securing that area, Mr. Soldier.
  • If you don’t have a passenger-side seat because an ex-commando ripped it out, and you’re not buckled, you really don’t have to worry about a head-on collision with a lightpole. For some reason.
  • “I LIED.” Man, that line never gets old.
  • Can claymore mines really blow up buildings?
  • Those buildings get blown up about six times. Each.
  • Look no further for terrific examples of ’80s interior decorating!
  • Women. They never know which way to shoot a rocket launcher.
  • Waves can camoflauge you from radar. Shut up! Just because!
  • Arnold in a speedo. Um… thank you?
  • You are on a countdown to save your daughter. Is this really the best time to put on makeup?
  • And he puts it on UNDER his vest as well.
  • Matrix kills 81 people.
  • The shopping mall (Sherman Oaks Galleria) used is the same one that was used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since both films wrapped, the mall has been remodeled.

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