Saturday, July 20, 2013

Instant Action: Commando (1985)

Ah, Bill Paxton, you show up in so many great action movies!

Screenplay By: Steven E. de Souza
Directed By: Mark L. Lester

There are certain hallmarks, or trademarks if you will, that I have begun to look for in action movies. It's not a prerequisite that an action film have these trademarks. Rather, I know what I am getting into when certain criteria start being met. It's almost like a checklist, I move down a list as the film progresses and smirk as the film hits all these various trademarks. The one era in particular that is capable of hitting almost all of these trademarks every time out is the 1980s action film. Whether it's straight to video, or a Hollywood blockbuster, there's something about 1980s action that I'm able to connect with in a way that isn't the case with action from other eras. Commando was a trademark film from beginning to end, and as is often the case with 1980s action trademark films, I had a fricking blast watching Commando.

To start off with, Commando gives us a montage of bad asses killing random people followed by a montage of Arnold Schwarzenegger eating ice cream with Alyssa Milano. Two very different ideas, that shouldn't work next to one another, yet they do. The reason for this is simple, Commando is an absurd film. It is balls to the wall craziness and action from the moment it starts. Mark L. Lester must have realized his film didn't have much besides action and being crazy because that's all he really aims for in Commando. In a lesser film this would be a flaw, but not in a film like Commando. It isn't five minutes into the film when the daughter has already been kidnapped and our hero has already started killing baddies left and right. There's no restraint in Commando, but there's an economy of action that comes with the films inability, or unwillingness, to hold back.

Similar to the film, this review is a tad all over the pace. In my writing, that's not a good thing, but in Commando the scattershot nature of the screenplay is a great thing. In short order we are given a main villain who does a terrible Latin accent. The main opposition for our hero wears a chain mail shirt and looks like he's straight out of an S&M session. Our hero is given the epic name of John Matrix, and he can even smell the bad guys coming as long as he's downwind. The reluctant partner is tossed into the mix, and like clockwork she becomes a willing participant before too long. An armory is raided, and someone learns to fire a rocket launcher in about two minutes. This may seem like a description of the plot, but it really isn't. These are but a few of the things that take place in Commando that make the movie so awesome.

Commando is built around Mr. Schwarzenegger, and he is a perfect fit as the super soldier. I'm a pretty big fan of Mr. Schwarzenegger as an actor. Playing the action hero is obviously right in his wheel house. Yet, Commando offers him the chance to showcase one of his most underrated qualities as an actor, his comedic timing. He makes some absurd lines of dialogue work, and his deadpan delivery of comedic lines is always funny. Perhaps Steven E. de Souza was trying to be ironically funny with his screenplay, but I'm not completely sold on that line of thinking. The writing and the direction are tailored to suit the ability of Mr. Schwarzenegger as an actor, and in that sense Commando is a very well made film.

I've never seen any other film from Mr. Lester, and a quick look at his filmography reveals that Commando may be his one shining moment. And what a shining moment it is, I'll fight with anyone over Commando's place in the action lexicon. Mr. Lester's film delivers in spades when it comes to unadulterated and thrilling action sequences. The film, to use a common phrase, leaves everything it has action wise on the table. No punches are pulled, and that results in a lot of pleasing action. Sure, most of the action is preposterous, but that doesn't matter a lick. The action in Commando is well constructed and plays to all the strengths of the one man soldier action film.

Prior to this watch I hadn't seen Commando in years, and I'm mad at myself over that fact. The film moves along at a brisk pace, and it gets right into its action roots. The story is beyond simple, but the story isn't the point of a film like Commando. Mr. Schwarzenegger shines in an intense and well put together action film. Commando can hang with any other action film, from any era. It's absurd, it has plenty of amazing moments and out there characters. Basically, Commando is what people should look for in a pure action film. Or, at the least it's what I look for in a pure action film. I finished Commando with a smile on my face, and that smile hasn't waned yet. That tells one all they need to know about the quality of Commando as an action film.




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