6 January 2008 | TimBoHannon
Arnold Satisfies Once Again
After Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1997 heart surgery, his box office popularity faded. 1996's "Kindergarten Cop" is a comedy, and he did not play the lead role in "Batman and Robin," even though his name grabbed him top billing. That makes "Eraser" his last great action film until "Terminator 3" became his last hurrah, for now anyway. Schwarzenegger plays John Kruger, "The Eraser." He puts the protection in the Witness Protection Program.
I cannot imagine a better beginning. Two thugs have invaded the home of a Federal witness (Robert Pastorelli). His wife writhes on the floor as the duo prepare to burn the house. Hearing gagged screams of a visibly bound woman having gasoline poured on her is not a pleasant experience for most people, nor is the sight of an innocent man about to have his tongue removed. The sounds and images ramp up audience hate towards the two, then greatly increases the euphoria when Kruger comes in and kills them in a most unpleasant fashion. His timely rough justice spurs us to root even for him even harder later on, even if the effect is on a subconscious level.
His next assignment is Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams) who works Cyrez, a weapons manufacturer. Company President William Donahue (the always dependable James Cromwell) is selling high tech weapons on the open market, weapons that are supposed to be for the United States only. As Kruger points out, the men who recruit Cullen fail to inform her that she will need to be placed under Witness Protection. She refuses the program and returns home. An encounter with hi-tech hit men forces her to reconsider, and Kruger places her in a secret location and gives her a new identity.
The new weapon is the rail gun. It uses magnetic fields to propel aluminum rounds close to the speed of light. Of course, that means it can shoot through walls, and its scope can see through them, though not in great detail. There is a side shot of one being fired later, and the rounds are obviously not moving as quickly as advertised. They leave a visible trail, but it takes two of three frames for them to move the length of the shot, when it should be all the way through in one, but I don't care. The graphic looks cool and such a small detail is hardly a deal breaker.
Any list of the positives must start with Vanessa Williams. Cullen is hardly a part with Oscar caliber demands, but Williams plays her about as perfectly as possible. She is firm and disdainful when speaking to Donahue, then firm and surprised during her later meeting with FBI agents. She is often required to act fearfully, and in a state of controlled panic. Selling those emotions is not easy. I have acting experience, I should know. The former Miss America is more known as a singer than an actress, but her performance here illustrates why she received a musical theater scholarship to Syracuse. The aftermath of the first attack on her provides her best moment.
Similar praise goes to James Caan, playing Kruger's mentor. Caan is also a talented actor. The same can also be said of James Coburn as the Witness Protection agency's highest officer. Both had spent over thirty years in movie acting by 1996, and there abilities are evident in how well they convey their authority. There are too many action films with weak acting, but people like Williams, Caan, Coburn and Pastorelli ensure that "Eraser" is the opposite. Melora Walters provides arguably the best acting in her small but animated part as the Pastorelli character's wife.
The action, of course, must be well done, and for the most part it lives up to the Schwarzenegger standards. The opening scene is set up so well it does not have to be good, but it is, and the precedent is set. The action is not Arnold's best, but still more than adequate. I was disappointed at how little the rail gun is used, and I probably would have voted an eight if it made more appearances. When it does come, the action is not disappointing. Watching Arnold wield them brought a big smile to my face. Their lack of screen time a detriment, but with good acting and clever plot, there are still more than enough qualities to earn a full recommendation for yet another good effort from Mr. Schwarzenegger.