|Written by Darren Gross|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008|
John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is the former leader of an elite commando unit clearly patterned on Sylvester Stallone’s outfit from “First Blood,” with the telling difference being that Matrix has no post-war trauma. When members of his retired team are assassinated, his former leader, General Kirby (James Olson), calls on Matrix to notify and warn him that someone may be coming after him. Shortly after Kirby and his soldiers depart, guerilla troops attack his house and capture him and his daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano). The two are brought to a warehouse hideout where the reason behind the attack is revealed: recently ousted dictator, Arius (Dan Hedaya), of the bogus Latin American country of Val Verde, has recruited one of Matrix’s commandos to assist him in removing the current president and return him to power. Matrix’s Judas is Bennett (a doughy Vernon Wells), who is still smarting over being thrown out of Matrix’s elite squad. In order to save his daughter, Matrix is ordered to take the next plane to Val Verde and assassinate the president. Matrix goes along with it but on the plane, he quietly kills his guard and escapes, jumping from the landing gear into a nearby swamp.
In the LAX parking garage, Matrix enlists the reluctant help of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), a stewardess who is days away from earning her pilot’s license, who unwillingly goes along for the ride. Cindy’s distrust of Matrix results in a bit of mayhem in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, but once she realizes Matrix isn’t lying, she’s fully onboard as they race against time to find where Jenny is being held, before the plane Matrix is supposed to be on arrives in Val Verde and his absence is discovered. The high concept description would be, “Bad guys abduct elite commando, John Matrix’s daughter, and he kills dozens of them before rescuing her.”
“Commando” is the dictionary definition of a moron movie. It’s a completely empty exercise in pop action moviemaking that jettisons any sense of realism or emotional weight and aims to create an over-the-top catalogue of comic book violence and carnage. To complain about the superficiality and ridiculousness of the story and its cardboard characters would probably be missing the point. Director Mark L. Lester (“Class of 84,” “Firestarter”) and co. seem to have boiled down the action film to its core essence, removing those pesky elements like realism and believable characters and produced a breezy 90-minute film almost entirely built out of highlights. Disregarding the weighty violence of “First Blood” or “The Terminator,” clearly this film’s inspirations, allows Lester to have Matrix slaughter dozens without making the violence unpleasant or disturbing. The cartoonish, nearly bloodless nature of the carnage (Matrix machine-guns dozens of soldiers who can’t manage to hit him even once) makes it giddily enjoyable. Up until “RoboCop” raised the bar in 1987, pushing the level of violence on-screen into the stratosphere, “Commando” was arguably the most violent film of the 80s. The level of violence on display here has been upped and outdone so many times that what was once a tad shocking, now seems tame. Back in 1986, Lester made several cuts to tone down the violence in order to get an “R” rating; while these cuts were restored for a special edition DVD, the Blu-ray release, unfortunately, only contains the dated “R” cut.
“Commando” is clearly intended as a star vehicle for Schwarzenegger and director Lester is up to the assignment, introducing the beefy star with loving close-ups of his biceps and muscles, and emphasizing his large frame as he carries an enormous fallen tree through the woods. Vernon Wells, so memorable as the mohawked post-apocalyptic punk in “The Road Warrior,” is a bit too flabby of arms and paunchy of belly to make a worthy opponent for “Ahhnuld.” Jesse Ventura (who would work well with Schwarzenegger in “Predator”) would have been perfect. Wells overacts gleefully, delivering nearly every one his lines in a large-eyed anticipatory whisper. When the two foes finally face off at the climax, the hint of some manner of sexual tension existing between them is laid out almost explicitly in hilarious fashion. While Schwarzenegger is in fine physical shape, his acting is awkward and stiff, betraying a level of self-conscious flatness that he’d eventually lose—at least to some degree. The one-liners he repeatedly delivers are real groaners, and screenwriters Steven E. DeSouza, Matthew Weisman and Jeph Loeb pepper the dialogue with memorable lines from “The Terminator” such as “I’ll be back,” etc. the repetition of which, assuredly helped stamp that line into the cinemagoers lexicon, helped along by the endless number of rebroadcasts this film had on HBO back in the day.
The 1080p picture quality is underwhelming. The original materials display a high level of grain with a few very murky night shots. Some of the brighter, sunny shots convey more pleasingly defined color and display a crisp HD level of sharpness (the shots of the barracks exploding is pretty impressive…aside from the obvious dummies) but the lion’s share of the transfer rarely appears much better than standard definition.
The audio is presented in DTS HD-MA 5.1, with the core-only monitored for purposes of this review. The audio sounds like an accurate replication of the 4.0 original Dolby Stereo theatrical mix. As expected from a Dolby film of this era, the audio is crisp and exciting, but a bit less detailed and effects-heavy than more recent action film mixes. There are moments where the surround channels are used quite aggressively, as when the unseen Matrix machine-guns a batch of troops from behind camera, which places the gunfire sound effects in the rear surrounds. James Horner’s score is an extremely cheesy, dated 80s action-movie score with a pop-music vibe, featuring synthesized drums, calypso drums and saxophone. It’s a silly score, but it’s given appreciable breadth and presence across the three front channels.
Fox’s appalling greed and cheapness (both cuts of the film could easily have been contained via seamless branching) are blatantly clear with their handling of this title and the recent “Predator” disc. Given the enormous amount of room available on Blu-ray, the idea of including the extras and audio commentary from the standard DVD would seem like a no-brainer and the wisest course of action for consumers. Without including the director’s cut, deleted scenes, commentary, or featurettes, the owners of the standard DVD (and those who have yet to purchase the title) have no real reason to purchase this disc…especially not with an offensive SRP of $39.95. The sole extra is a grainy theatrical trailer in 1080p.