Friday 3 April 2015

Movie Review: Eraser (1996)

A big budget Arnold Schwarzenegger action extravaganza, Eraser is fresh out of new ideas and settles down to recycle the violence, heavy weaponry and attitude from many previous and better productions.

John Kruger (Schwarzenegger) is the best agent working for the Witness Security Protection Program (WITSEC), the government bureau responsible for making critical witnesses disappear before and after they testify against violent criminals. Kruger first saves the life of careless mob witness Johnny Casteleone (Robert Pastorelli), and is then assigned by his WITSEC supervisor Robert DeGuerin (James Caan) to protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams). She works at high tech weapons manufacturer Cyrez, and has uncovered evidence that Cyrez is illegally exporting advanced weapons to enemies of the United States.

WITSEC Chief Arthur Beller (James Coburn) advises Kruger that a lot of well-connected people will want Lee dead, and he is soon proven right. Kruger has his hands full fending off enemies, but manages to stash Lee in a New York safe house. Soon many witnesses that are supposed to be under protection turn up dead, revealing a mole within the agency and forcing DeGuerin and Kruger to swing into action to try and reach Lee before the death squads. Kruger soon realizes that he is surrounded by traitors, and as the deadline for a huge illegal weapons deal approaches, he finds an unlikely ally in Casteleone as he tries to thwart the bad guys and keep Lee alive.

John Kruger is big, strong, robotic, works alone and is pretty much indestructible. It does not matter how many times he is shot, stabbed, buried in rubble or otherwise hurt. In the very next scene his injuries are irrelevant and the mayhem continues. In short, he represents the shorthand summary of many previous Schwarzenegger characters, and he blazes through the film fending off countless enemies, shooting, maiming and overcoming villains no matter how outnumbered or hurt he may be.

Eraser is directed by Chuck Russell, and he keeps the action coming at the pace needed to satisfy the undiscerning viewer, which also conveniently covers up the numerous plot holes and disinterested acting. Caan and Coburn sleepwalk through the film, miles and years away from their era of relevance, while Vanessa Williams appears to try hard but cannot overcome a fundamental lack of ability to act. Schwarzenegger does not try to act; he just times the delivery of his one liners to maximum effect, and some of these actually work.

In terms of stunts and set-pieces, Russell does deliver a few gems amidst the prevailing and predictable silliness. There is a long free fall from a plane, a New York zoo aquarium shoot-out that involves some massive and quite hungry alligators, and a cool handheld rail gun with wall-penetrating visibility. Of course the film ends with Arnie destroying his surroundings carrying not one, but two of the massive weapons. When it's Schwarzenegger doing the erasing, only the biggest and baddest erasers will do.

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