Release Date: October 4th, 1985 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mark L. Lester Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke
The film starts with hitmen posing as garbage collectors, an explosion on a boat, and a crash through a car dealership – three brutal assassinations, followed by a sickeningly picturesque montage of family man Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) doing father-daughter activities with little Jenny (a very young Alyssa Milano). Despite being in extreme isolation in the middle of the mountains, a helicopter locates the duo, delivering a message from a general: someone is killing off John’s former troopers, and he’s unquestionably next on the list. Mere seconds later, gunfire alerts the ex-military commando of assassin presence – but he’s outgunned to the point that his daughter is kidnapped and he’s blackmailed into helping corrupt official Arius (Dan Hedaya) kill Val Verde President Velasquez, the very man Matrix’s team originally fought to empower. If he doesn’t cooperate, mercenary Bennett (Vernon Wells), Arius’ chief soldier, will kill Jenny.
Matrix is escorted to a plane where he’ll journey on an 11-hour flight to Val Verde, shadowed by a towering gunman. In a brilliant twist, he quickly dispatches the watchman and disembarks from the airplane – and now he’s got exactly eleven hours to track down Bennett and rescue his daughter, before anyone gets suspicious. Along the way, he’ll have to mow down armies of infantrymen and blow up squadrons of guerillas, use his impeccable training to combat green berets and outsmart lawmen, and forcibly utilize the generally meager help from Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), a tagalong whose car he stole in pursuit of a sarcastic henchman (David Patrick Kelly).
Matrix might be another perfect role for Schwarzenegger (one year after “The Terminator” and definitely foreshadowing his future role in “Predator”), requiring no acting skills or the mastery of dialogue – just a few simple one-line comeback utterances (some of which aren’t too shabby) and brute strength. On several instances, he picks up enormous obstacles: a telephone booth, a car, and no less than four different people. He doesn’t even have to worry about wooing his female partner, since she’s never even remotely a love interest. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are spectacular, demonstrating a flair for theatrics, with impressive stunts and effects that are all accomplished without CG. Bodies being tossed about are (for the most part) real stuntmen, along with practical vehicles and genuine explosions.
The choice of the villain is particularly disappointing, considering actor Wells is not in the least bit intimidating or formidable (his goofy accent borders on comical, along with his silly costume accessories, such as a peculiar chainmail vest). The finale is also quite notable, in a much more positive light, as it boasts an enormous body count and countless expended ammunition; this too is almost hilarious thanks to the chaotic extravagance. Schwarzenegger is entirely a one-man army, storming a massive palace (like something out of “Scarface”) single-handedly. Gratifyingly, he picks up the biggest weapon left by fallen enemies, and he isn’t afraid to use a little harsh language and lethal force to clear a path for revenge. He’s also armed with a dated soundtrack full of bass drum, keyboards, and xylophones, and for a brief time, a Speedo.
– Mike Massie