Sunday, October 3, 2010

Film Review: COMMANDO (1985, Mark L. Lester)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, CHAINDANCE), Alyssa Milano (DOUBLE DRAGON, POISON IVY 2), Vernon Wells (WEIRD SCIENCE, KING OF THE ANTS), David Patrick Kelly (WILD AT HEART, THE WARRIORS), Bill Duke (ACTION JACKSON, PREDATOR, THE LIMEY), Dan Hedaya (BLOOD SIMPLE, THE HUNGER, MULHOLLAND DR.), James Olson (AMITYVILLE II, RAGTIME), and a very special appearance by Bill Paxton. Music by James Horner (48 HRS., TITANIC). Cast by Jackie Burch, clearly one of the best casting directors of all time (THE BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES, D.C. CAB, PREDATOR, DIE HARD, THE RUNNING MAN). Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti (EXTREME PREJUDICE, FAST FORWARD, POLTERGEIST).
Tag-lines: "Let's party!"
Best one-liner: See review.

Now this is a difficult task I have before me: what can one write about COMMANDO which has not already been writ in the annals of cinema history? I believe that COMMANDO has universal appeal. There's truly something for everyone in COMMANDO. Yet not everyone is willing to sit down and check themselves out some COMMANDO. Thusly, there are many people- the sorts of people who wouldn't immediately recognize DPK as the universal abbreviation for David Patrick Kelly- that aren't giving COMMANDO a fair shake. So I shall put forth the solution to a perennial problem: how to vault COMMANDO from its position as a beer n' nachos slugfest to something that even the Cabernet Sauvignon crowd could enjoy? Well here ya go: a list of 7 low-brow and 8 high-brow happenings in COMMANDO- the best of both worlds. Hopefully, I can win over some hearts and minds. I'll begin with the low-brow because that's exactly the sort of no-class pandering you'd expect of this site:


1. RDC. Or, for the uninitiated, Rae Dawn Chong.

I like Rae Dawn Chong. I like Rae Dawn Chong a lot. When Ironside needed a go-to lady in CHAINDANCE, who did he pick? Rae Dawn Chong. When C. Thomas Howell was pretending to be black in SOUL MAN, whom did he romance? Rae Dawn Chong. When James Remar needed some luvin' after getting freaked out by gargoyles in TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, who did he shack up with? Rae Dawn Chong. All these great minds can't be wrong about Chong. Anyway, she's pretty horrible in this movie. She's kind of the Kate Capshaw/Willie Scott of COMMANDO. I don't know why I started with this one. Hell, I don't know why I'm telling you this, period.

Anyway, somebody must've liked it, or else they wouldn't have told her to be really annoying for the duration. Which only proves my point: this theoretical person who likes screechingly vocal, nettlesome female leads is dissimilar to me in almost every regard. And yet the both of us can find common ground in COMMANDO!


I really miss these kinds of mall elevators. They used to be in every movie. Well, they at least used to be in RUNNING SCARED.

3. The emphasis on sweaty Arnie pec-shaking as legions of men wearing mustaches constructed from felt purchased at Jo-Ann Fabrics are gunned down in a wanton display of gratuitous violence.

4. Occasionally in an action movie, they'll show the same explosion twice, from different angles, for dramatic effect. Sometimes they'll show it three times, perhaps alternating shutter speeds or frame rates to give it that DAYUM SHIT IS BLOWIN' UP sparkle. Once in a blue moon, they'll even show an explosion four times, cause they just couldn't resist.

Well, in COMMANDO, the same explosion is shown nine times. Don't take my word for it, either:

5. One-liners, one-liners, one-liners. I know you've heard them all before, from "Don't disturb my friend, he's dead tired" to "BULLLLLLLL-SHIT!!!" My personal favorite is probably the head-scratchingly homoerotic, "John, I'm not going to shoot you between the eyes. I'm going to shoot you between the balls!" Regardless, I don't think that I can quite emphasize enough how many one-liners are used in COMMANDO. Look at this graph which compares the number of successful one-liners used in COMMANDO to the number of successful one-liners used in everyday life.

The numbers are staggering. I also appreciate that three thousand years of dramatic writing from Aeschylus to Shakespeare to Eugene O'Neill found culmination in 1985 with the following exchange:


Fuck YOU, asshole!

6. Arnold flinging a phone booth containing a frightened David Patrick Kelly!

7. An axe-low-blow!?

Alright, before I get off track and we lose too many brain cells:


1. So many random windows in COMMANDO have artsy, Vittorio Storaro/Dario Argento/Bernard Bertolucci-style colorful backlighting. Didn't expect that in COMMANDO, did you? Well, COMMANDO is full of surprises.

2. I've been working, on and off, on this sort of existential science-fiction film called BLACK HOLE ADVENTURE. It attempts to merge the youthful whimsy and 80's-tastical-ness of those old CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE novels with the crushing pessimism and random tragedies of adulthood, and it's all wrapped in a package that's half ROBOT MONSTER and half SPACE ACADEMY. I only mention this, because I discovered that David Patrick Kelly is somehow wearing BLACK HOLE ADVENTURE.

That out-of-this-world suit! The scratchy, woolen needlework! All tied together with a pair of Spicoli's checkered surf shoes from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH! A-plus, DPK. An A-plus.

3. Hedaya's ponderous jowls. Hedaya's shaggy, caterpillar-esque eyebrows. Hedaya's deeply cleft chin. Hedaya's sunken, terrifying eyes. Hedaya's five o'clock shadow. Hedaya's unnervingly fleecy chest hair, always threatening to crawl out of his shirt and onto YOU. All of these disparate elements converge to form Dan Hedaya.

4. BOOM- out of nowhere- Paxton. He only gets like three lines in a throwaway role as an air-traffic controller, but I still say even just ten seconds of Paxton is ten seconds of class.

5. The COMMANDO font.

Busy, but not too busy. Colorful, but not too colorful. Kinda sporty, but kinda militaristic. Framed elegantly by parallel horizontal lines. I could go on.

6. The opening montage of Schwarzenegger and daughter Alyssa Milano which seems to borrow equally from Leni Riefenstahl propaganda, contemporary political advertisements, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

7. The void in Bill Duke's eyes. Even for the film fan who has seen it all, there's something sincerely uncanny about Bill Duke's deadpan stare. Most of filmdom's great psychos- from Lon Chaney to Dwight Frye to Anthony Perkins to Crispin Glover- have an active glint in their eye, a quivering eyebrow, a narrowed eyelid. Not Bill Duke. Bill Duke looks into your soul, confident that neither he nor you even have one. Then he says that he likes the price of your Cadillac and runs you down with it.

8. James Horner's score. Ever since I got my hands on a copy, I've had nothing but steel drums and discordant wailin' sax stuck in my craw. Now, it may be a total rip-off of Horner's previous score for 48 HRS., but at least this time the tropical locale provides a bona fide excuse for the steel drum action. This is a throbbing, pulsating, hard-driving score that never lets up, never quits, never stops with its firm jams and unyielding grooves.

In all, COMMANDO is the tale of a man who so loves his daughter, Chenny, that he blasts, low-balls, and blows away a ton of dudes so that he can get to a fictitious Latin-American country, change into a Speedo,

row to shore, change back into commando clothes, blow away some more dudes, take off his shirt, and finally face off in a steam room with the leather-pantsed, chainmail-sweater-wearing bastard who has wronged him.

Four and a half stars. Make sure, uh, nobody gets poked in the eye or whatever.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Great review! That was as entertaining as the movie itself. Bennett is the most bizarre action movie villain of all time! Chain mail sweater wearing bastard indeed!

J.D. said...

Hah! Awesome review. I haven't seen this film in years but have fond memories of seeing it when it came out with my dad. Talk about your explosion porn! Lots of things blow up real good! Not to mention all the baddies Arnie guns down.

And thank you for commenting on DPK's fashion sense in this film. He certainly showed his fashionable side in THE WARRIORS, rockin' the blue jean look. He's one suave mutha that's for sure.

And between this film, PREDATOR and PAYBACK, I have a man-crush on Bill Duke. Oh yeah, his cameo in THE LIMEY was sublime. He is THE man.

Great review. Man, now I really want to watch this film.

Dan said...

Chenny :D

Sean Gill said...

Anon. and Dan-

Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for stopping by! CHENNNN-NY!


DPK is indeed super-suave- I always come back to the baguette scene in TWIN PEAKS, too: the epitome of class. Ha!

Bill Duke is indeed the man. And I didn't realize until I wrote this review that he's more prolific a director than an actor!

Tempest said...

I saw this years ago with my dad, too on home video. I knew it was Milano's shadow (I told my dad a kid's shadow) sneaking up on Arnold. I think I was surprised to see Samantha from tv in a movie. I forgot RDC was in this. I always liked her too, and this motivated me to look her up. She has not been in anything on tv or in films for a few years.

Shaun said...

This review is priceless, the graph of one-liners gave me a good laugh, I was surprised though you left some of the best ones out, like “I eat green Berets for breakfast, and right now I am very very hungry” or “Remember when I promised to kill you last Sully?” “Yea Matrix you did!” “I lied.” I think they recycled most of that battle scene from the building blowing up to the two guys that get blown up with the grenade, not to mention the never ending clip of ammunition, I want one of those. This movie was a classic 80’s cheesy action flick, because it worked, and apparently worked well because there are a ton of movies like this. Do people actually wear chain mail sweaters like that? Because I didn’t find it very flattering, and it didn’t seem to protect him from the hurling steam pipe (just saying). I sat down with a movie geek that I work with at DISH and I think he went on for two hours about this movie, must be one of his favorites, but of course I was going right along with him, and its sad when you talk about the movie for longer then the movie was. Of course I’m in the middle of 80’s action flick month, I have been loading my blockbuster @home DVD queue up with every Arnie movie I can, then it will be Stallone’s turn, but Arnie always comes first.

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for your comments, Shaun! And I think COMMANDO provides a rich enough cinematic text that it can be freshly discussed and discussed for time periods that far outlast the film. Also, I kind of want a chain-mail sweater vest.

Jonathan Last said...

Great stuff! You may appreciate my own Commando review by poem:

Andrew David Baron said...

Best review of all time. Epic.

Sean Gill said...


Somehow I never saw your comment until today– read your COMMANDO poem and must give it highest marks.


Thanks for stoppin' by!