In my book Eraser is the last golden era Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It’s a high concept action movie, in the vein of True Lies, which was followed by movies like Jingle All The Way and Batman & Robin. After that he starred in a string of flops and suddenly looked much older, which was probably due to the heart surgery he underwent in the late 90’s. As a golden era Schwarzenegger movie this one has all the ingredients: a high concept element (futuristic guns), over the top stunt sequences and one-liners delivered with a thick accent.
Arnold plays U.S. Marshal John Kruger; a guy responsible for helping people in witness protection. He sets them up with new identities and keeps an eye on them afterwards. During the opening scene he takes out a couple of mobsters who are trying to kill a snitch and his wife. We see his skills as he takes them down with ease, takes a couple of Polaroids of the snitch and his wife posing as if they’re dead, positions two bodies with the photos in their pockets in the front yard in such a way they appear to have shot each other, then rigs the house so it would explode and calls the police. “This works best with an audience” he replies as they drive off, sirens wailing in the background.
It’s obvious he’s very good at his job. In fact, in true action movie fashion there is the classic scene where someone, a superior in most cases, gives a small speech about how he’s the best there is. A lot of Steven Seagal movies have this character and so does Eraser: John’s mentor DeGuerin played by James Caan. Another action movie trope is that of the mentor vs. student and Eraser uses that by having DeGuerin be a corrupt U.S. Marshal and John’s nemesis. He’s working on an illegal arms deal for the Undersecretary of Defense and Cyrez and John so happens to have Cyrez employee Lee Cullen under his protection who’s going to testify against the company, blowing the lit on this shady deal. DeGuerin frames John for being the mole within WitSec who has to go in hiding together with Lee in order to clear his name, keep her safe and stop the arms deal.
If Eraser was produced in the 80’s it would have been a much lower concept movie. It would have dealt with just some guns on the market and some scenes would probably not exist. Made after True Lies they had to up the ante and include high tech rifles which have some sort of x-ray vision making it able to view your target through walls and whenever they shoot they create this greenish CG-beam. There’s also a nifty scene in which Kruger hangs on to a flying plane and sees his parachute falling down, he goes after chute, puts it on in mid-air only to see the plane turn around to try to take him out. This and a scene with CG-crocodiles are something you wouldn’t have seen in a movie made before 1990.
I have commented about how movies like Red Heat and a lot of other Schwarzenegger movies have underlying homosexual subtext. Eraser actually acknowledges this and has a scene set in a gay bar where there are all sorts of innuendos uttered. The funny thing is that this movie actually proves that Arnie doesn’t feel out of place in such a location. The fact there is no romantic subplot between Arnold and Lee only reinforces the subtext.
Lee is played by Vanessa Williams, former Miss America, and now the 30’s something employee with a guilty conscience. I must admit that in a lot of scenes she actually looked a lot older to me. Not the typical choice for a female lead. Williams is adequate as the woman in danger. In true 90’s fashion she’s a lot more self-empowered than the average 70’s or 80’s female lead. Here’s a woman with a successful career who helps the Arnold break into Cyrez, shoots bad guys and is a convincing character. On the other hand there’s James Caan’s DeGuerin who’s eventual double cross comes as no surprise. As soon as he appeared on screen it was clear to me he would be the main villain. As as villain he succeeds as a commandeering character, but he never convinces me he’s the guy that trained Kruger. Only through heavy editing are they able to make it as if Caan actually has some fighting skills. Never in the entire movie did I had the idea that Kruger has found his match in DeGuerin.
There are some nice casting choices. James Cromwell appears in a cameo and the always reliable James Coburn has a role as Kruger/DeGuerin’s boss. There is no outstanding work done here in terms of acting, but then again this isn’t the kind of movie that would win serious awards.
It might not be Arnold’s best movie and is a step down compared to previous action movies from that decade: True Lies, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Total Recall for instance, but it’s an entertaining action movie, and in hindsight maybe even the last good Schwarzenegger movie.