It’s interesting how if you want to do a parody version of a typical 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in something (like The Simpsons does with Ranier Wolfcastle’s McBain movies), you make it a fairly lowbrow straight-ahead 1980s action movie – no offbeat counterfactual genre stuff like horror/SF/fantasy movies might include, nothing fancy, just a badass cop or special forces guy blowing away bad guys and delivering quips.
The thing is, Schwarzenegger’s filmography doesn’t actually reflect that. The 1980s movies which made his reputation for the most part consisted of fantasy schlock (Conan the Barbarian and its sequels), unexpectedly thoughtful science fiction (The Terminator, Predator, The Running Man), and the oddity which was Twins (a comedy playing off his image). This pattern largely persisted into the early 1990s, where a strand of movies like Kindergarten Cop, Last Action Hero, and True Lies emerged playing off his reputation as this archetypal hero for straight-ahead pure-action movies when, in fact, he’d hardly done anything in that vein.
The major exceptions to this are Commando, Raw Deal, and mmmmmaybe Red Heat, though that’s enough of a comedy that I’d consider it borderline. It’s certainly strange that Schwarzenegger’s cinematic reputation should be based essentially on two or three movies that rank among his less successful and of the decade. Let’s take a look at them and see how they come across these days.
Colonel John Matrix (Arnie) is a retired special forces commando who lives in a happy little mountain cabin with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). Their domestic peace is shattered when Matrix’s former boss descends on them in an Army helicopter to bring bad news and a couple of bodyguards for the family. You see, it turns out that someone has been killing off former members of John’s unit, and the assumption is that their civilian cover identities have been blown and John is next on the list.
Literally as soon as the Army brass have departed in the chopper it all goes to shit; within minutes the soldiers left behind to guard the house are dead, Jenny’s been kidnapped, and Matrix is in the hands of the mercenaries – led by Bennett (Vernon Wells), a former member of Matrix’s unit that Matrix had kicked out for getting a bit too war crimesy with their operations. Bennett and his team are working for Arius (Dan Hedaya), the former dictator of the South American nation of Val Verde who Matrix and crew ousted in a US-backed coup. Arius wants Matrix to use his status as a hero of Val Verde to assassinate the new president, with the intent of using the killing as the opening strike in a counter-revolution.
Naturally, Matrix isn’t having it; a few death-defying stunts later, and he’s on the loose, with only 11 hours to go until the plane he’s discovered. When coup conspirator Sully (David Patrick Kelly of Twin Peaks fame) makes the mistake of trying his pickup artist bullshit on flight attendant Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), Matrix spots an opportunity to start unravelling the plot, and after some initial reluctance Cindy finds herself swept up in Matrix’s adventure.
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