The Specialist (1994)
The Specialist (1994)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: October 7th, 1994 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Luis Llosa Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts, Mario Ernesto Sanchez, Brittany Paige Bouck




n Bogota, Columbia, in 1984, CIA explosives specialist Ray Quick (Sylvester Stallone) and his mentor, Colonel Ned Trent (James Woods), set up bombs on a dam for a drug kingpin target. But when Ray notices a child inside a truck as it heads for the bridge, he demands that the mission be aborted. Trent has no sympathy for unlucky innocents, however, resulting in numerous casualties and a violent falling out with his subordinate.

Approximately 10 years later, Ray is now a lone wolf for hire in Florida, approached by the mysterious May Munro (Sharon Stone) for a revenge job. Her parents were killed by narcotics dealer Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts) and two of his henchmen when she was a small child, and she’s been waiting ever since for the right time to strike back. When Quick hesitates to accept the proposition, May assumes the alias Adrian Hastings to insinuate herself into Leon’s personal life for a manufactured opportunity for an assassination. All the while, Ray tails her to make sure the situation doesn’t get out of hand. But when Leon’s father Joe (Rod Steiger, donning the same overblown accent he used in “Duck, You Sucker”), the Miami underworld patriarch, believes he’s the target, he employs former operative Trent to uncover the plot.

Suspenseful music, repetitious tough-guy glances, and macho exclamations (delivered with unconvincing grit) mark “The Specialist” as a very typical ‘90s actioner. Stallone’s appearance and swagger don’t change things up, either. But there’s something undeniably amusing about an invincible juggernaut with a code of honor, unflinchingly tearing through waves of generic thugs. There’s even a random fistfight on a bus for no other reason than to establish that Stallone is still a formidable scrapper.

Meanwhile, Stone plays her “Basic Instinct” role half the time, smoking constantly and pretending to be cool and collected. She’s less believable as the fragile spy, in over her head and frightened by the severity of her surroundings. And James Woods plays James Woods, effortlessly becoming a nasty villain with the same ease in which he plays his equally despicable antiheroes (like in “Diggstown,” “The Hard Way,” and “Cop”). His attempts at menace alternate between hilariously impressive and purely comical.

Based on (or, more accurately, suggested by) the novels by John Shirley, “The Specialist” wants to be a more brooding, thinking-man’s action piece, like the early James Bond entries or Harry Palmer’s espionage pictures. But Stallone just isn’t the right actor for subtle adventure and the script goes for bravado over wit. A lengthy sex scene (embellished with saxophones and seemingly more Stallone nudity than Stone nudity) similarly pushes the tone toward commonplace rather than intelligent. Tape recordings of conversations that take place outside the main narrative timeline are reasonable attempts at a noir vibe; some admirable suspense arrives from Quick’s modus operandi of stealthy explosives (though the technology is never as clever as in “Speed” or as impactful as in “Blown Away,” both from the same year); and John Barry’s music is pretty catchy. But every time something works well, several other, incredibly weak aspects crop up to keep the production grounded in mediocrity.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10