Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1985's "Commando."

Commando April 13, 2020  

DIRECTED BY

Mark L. Lester

 

STARRING

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Rae Dawn Chong

Alyssa Milano

Vernon Wells

Dan Hedaya

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1985

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 30 Mins.

C

ommando (1985), one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first star vehicles following the breakthroughs of Conan the Barbarian (1982) and The Terminator (1984), is so narratively formulaic that its storyline might as well have started as a pre-mixed powder filling out a plastic bag. In the film, an erstwhile colonel called Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is brought out of retirement when a group of anonymous

mercenaries start killing members of his former unit, then kidnap Matrix’s young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). All this is a collective ploy to manipulate Matrix into assassinating a South American politician.

 

After Matrix is himself kidnapped, he quickly wriggles from captivity and out of a South America-bound plane ride. He has just 10 hours to impair the force of the mercenaries, led by a former dictator in the mood for overthrowing, from the inside out, then rescue Jenny. Expectedly, Matrix also serendipitously finds a woman sidekick. She's Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), a sharp-witted flight attendant who at first thinks Matrix is a classifiable madman, then gets attached when she realizes what’s going on.

 

Commando is formulaic, but that it isn’t opposed to using formula doesn't mean it's altogether apathetic. Think of the feature more as the cinematic equivalent of a mix-based cake whose final product is better than expected because it’s undergone some tweaks — say its maker has made some icing from scratch, or added a few additional complementary ingredients. Commando 

works to be a nice, comfortably familiar commingling of thriller and comedy characteristics (it has been amusingly written by Steven E. de Souza, and is energetically directed by Mark L. Lester) and excels. To be sure, its avalanche of one-liners, which constitutes a good portion of its comic output, is more drum-roll funny than funny haha. “He’s dead tired,” Matrix deadpans to a flight attendant moments after he’s quietly snapped the neck of the mercenary 

holding him hostage; “Let off some steam,” Matrix purrs to the dead body of a man he’s just killed with a steam pipe. But the movie in other places has a genuine kick. 

 

The kicks of Commando can most often be attributed to Cindy, whose bewilderment is a fount for laughs. (She's doing something similar to what Jamie Lee Curtis was doing in the 1994 Schwarzenegger vehicle True Lies, in which Curtis bumbled with the bravura of Lucille Ball.) After Matrix tells a green beret that he eats “green berets for breakfast” before smacking him, Cindy says “I can’t believe this macho bullshit" a few feet away, with a sigh. 

Moments later, she wonders if eating red meat is the only activity these men partake in outside of pummeling each other. Later, when she is tasked with using a rocket launcher, Chong mines for physical-comedy gold and finds it.  

 

Cindy is a winning addition to the movie in part because she embodies the healthily skeptical viewer; she’s as captivated by all this as she is ready to make jokes at the movie’s expense. Via Cindy, who is played with screwball spunk by Chong, Commando makes fun of itself before we can. (Unfortunately it isn’t quite as discerning when it comes to choices like the brownface donned by an antagonist played by white actor Dan Hedaya, or its less-than-subliminal xenophobia.) This is paint-by-numbers action at its best: it knows what its viewers expect of it — and certainly it provides what we would like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie released in 1985 to provide — without resolving that its initial mix ingredients are enough. A-