Only Arnold Schwarzenegger could say something so stupid and make it so damn awesome. Commando is the pinnacle of the Arnie movie, and has never been topped. Sure, he’s been in better action movies, like The Terminator movies (the first two at least), but Commando is the paragon of the One Man vs. Army of Cannon Fodder movie. It embodies the utter ridiculous of it, never takes itself seriously, and does so with just enough camp to sustain the perfect balance of comedy, energy and mayhem. It has been released in a gorier Director’s Cut that every red-blooded male must own.
I once heard someone say Stallone’s movie Cobra is better, because it is worse. Hipsters who ironically like bad movies need to choke on a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, preferably inserted into their throat through the anus by vigorous ass-kicking. By me, or a sexually frustrated psycho gorilla with crabs. Either/or, not that there’s much difference. Stallone shot his wad with First Blood, kickstarting this genre, and never topped it in my opinion. But enough about everyone’s favorite marble-mouthed, steroid-sucking tough guy. We’re here to talk about that other musclebound charismatic actor with a speech impediment, Arnie the Governator.
Commando begins with Bill Duke, yet another Big Bald Black Man I Admire, assassinating three men. When we meet Arnold, he is walking down a hillside carrying a chainsaw and lugging a redwood tree over his shoulder. We think he’s about to be attacked as he’s chopping wood, but when he whirls around it’s just his daughter Chenny sneaking up on him, played by Alyssa Milano (She was like 12, you perv). From there we go into a charming montage that shows his family life with his daughter. Fishing, teaching her commando kill moves, feeding a deer by hand that he later strangles off screen to make venison burgers out of, and letting her mush ice cream into his face with no violent repercussions. John Matrix is a nice guy, really.
A helicopter shows up with General Kirby, who warns John that someone is killing his old squad. He leaves a few soldiers to defend the house, but they are killed a few seconds after he leaves. Men spring from nowhere to machinegun his house to shreds. He tells Chenny to hide under the bed, and goes to his Secret Murder Shed to collect weapons and exterminate his new visitors. In the few short seconds it takes, Chenny has been captured and a lone villain remains to tell John the deal.
Bad Guy: My people, they got some business with you. And if you want your kid back, then you gotta co-operate, right?
He’s working for a South American dictator named Arius, played by Dan Hedaya- you know, Carla’s greaseball husband from Cheers. He does a great job with an over the top Hispanic accent, and definitely does better than Pacino in Scarface. So he’s more authentic than Carlos “Ned the Joke-Stealing Douche” Mencia. He wants Matrix to assassinate the elected leader of Val Verde, a fictional country that has its own wikipedia entry. If he doesn’t do it, Chenny will be fed to Bennett in a tangy Vegemite sauce. I think her name might be Jenny, but when Arnie calls someone Chenny, I assume that is what he named her.
Sully and a dude with a hilarious halfro (that’s half an afro) take Matrix to the airport to send him there. Sully is played by veteran character actor David Patrick Kelly, also known as Luther from The Warriors. He’s wearing a suit that was made from spaceage 80’s material that is no longer produced, and I wish I could own such a suit. Just look at him. Even Arnie is impressed. “I like you Sully. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”
Arnie quickly dispatches Halfro and jumps off the plane as it takes off, from the landing gear, splashing into a convenient swamp. From there he finds Sully hitting on a hot flight attendant played by sexy Rae Dawn Chong (Quest for Fire) and stalks the stalker, kidnapping her so he can get close to him. I’ll put it in her words:
Cindy: “You steal my car, you rip the seat out, you kidnap me, you ask me to help you find your daughter which I very kindly do, and then you get me involved in a shoot out where people are dying and there’s blood spurting all over the place, and then I watch you rip a phone booth out of a wall, swing from the ceiling like Tarzan, and then there’s a cop that’s going to shoot you and I save you and they start chasing me. Are you going to tell me what’s going on or what?”
Ruining a great suit.
It just keeps getting better- the movie really never lets up. They track down Bill Duke at Sully’s hotel, where Arnie accidentally throws him into a room full of gratuitous 80’s boobs and impales him on a coffee table. Oops. Matrix is not good at questioning people. Luckily they find a CLUE in the glovebox of his Cadillac and track the nefarious villains to a warehouse with a seaplane.
Even though the warehouse is full of weapons including a halftrack and a howitzer, Matrix decides to drive a bulldozer through a gun shop to get supplies. He finds the secret switch to the cool illegal stuff that every gun shop has. Seriously, ask to see the room sometime. All gun owners are fans of Commando, so just say “John Matrix sent me,” and you’ll get to play with the rocket launchers and claymores.
The cops don’t look kindly to driving bulldozers through local businesses, so they throw John in the paddy wagon. Thankfully Cindy reads the rocket launcher manual and manages to save him, and they drive off to the seaplane. Bill “Hudson” Paxton has a small role as an comms officer who tells them to get out of the airspace, but soon afterward Arnie is storming the beach in nothing but a banana hammock. You’d think they’d be fair and show a little Rae Dawn Thong, but no such luck.
If you’re a beast like Arnie, you can carry a small arsenal on your back and wipe out an entire island of lazy extras with mustaches so they look vaguely like South American mercenaries. And that is what he proceeds to do. I counted 4 knives, a battle rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, a rocket launcher, half a dozen grenades and enough explosives to turn half the island to matchsticks. He expends all these in short order, without stopping to even breathe, beginning by blowing up the barracks.
When he runs out of weapons he runs to a convenient Secret Murder Shed like he has at home, and uses pitchforks, axes, machetes and circular saw blades to eviscerate a squad of baddies. If you get the Director’s cut, you get some hilarious extended scenes of them looking at their severed limbs in horror. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.
When he finally tracks down Bennett, they have a balls-to-the-wall knife battle through the compound’s Fire and Pipe Room, which is the equivalent to the Dripping Chain Room found on spaceships and space stations. They fight using knives made by Jack Crain, who designed the knives for Predator as well. Bennett’s squeals and facial expressions during this fight are worthy of an Oscar. They really must be seen to be believed. He really does need to let off some steam, and thankfully Matrix lets him.
Includes alternate takes with even worse one-liners.
Commando is not even a guilty pleasure, it’s a straightforward pleasure. It really is the benchmark for the ridiculous action movie, and 23 years later it is still a blast. A lot of 80’s movies have a really cheap look, and this is no exception when we see Sully’s Porsche repair itself over and over, but most of the time it holds up. The soundtrack by James Horner uses Caribbean steel drums and is lots of fun, with “We Fight For Love” by The Power Station over the end credits solidifying it as an 80’s movie. The only downside is if you make your girlfriend watch it, the female equivalent of this movie is The Sweetest Thing, and that has been known to cause testicular cancer.