Friday, July 31, 2009

Stuff I Saw On YouTube: Commando

A few months ago “Meet the Press” had an episode featuring various state governors as guests, one of whom was Arnold Schwarzenegger. My wife said to me she couldn’t believe someone as stupid as Arnold could get elected governor. I replied that she was way off base. Sure California might be in utter ruins by the time he leaves office but he isn’t stupid. My evidence? Simply this. Could an overly muscled guy with a funny name, a thick Austrian accent, and no apparent acting ability become the biggest box office star in the world if he wasn’t super smart? I don’t think so. Of course luck played a part in Arnold’s rise also. He hit the movies at the perfect time.

The 1980’s ushered in a new kind of action movie. Our ‘80’s army of one-man armies, aided by nothing more than their own superior training, sophisticated weaponry, the suspension of certain physical laws, and millions of dollars in special effects, slaughtered and dispatched hundreds of unmourned mercenaries, foreigners, traitors and aliens. Thankfully innocent bystanders always emerged completely unscathed in the countless explosions and deadly crossfires. Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood probably ushered in the age of the’ 80’s action movie but he opened the door for the combined acting talents of Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and whoever else I’m missing. Box-office gold. But Schwarzenegger was the king of them all y’all.

Now Arnold went on to make a few pretty good movies, but if you’re looking for the one movie that defines the ‘80’s era of good clean gratuitous slaughter, the apotheosis of the genre is Arnold’s true masterpiece: Commando. Now believe me, I’m not claiming it’s actually a good movie. You can’t defend this crap on any aesthetic level. But it’s a historic movie, the one introducing us to the on-screen Schwarzenegger persona that went on to rule the box-office. It’s the first time Arnold gets to kill people and be funny. For pure mindless entertainment you’ve got to check it out and the single best way to watch it is not as a full-length feature film, but rather as a series of hilarious clips on YouTube. It’s the only way to appreciate the absurd, gruesome yet cartoonlike violence, terrible acting (beside the point in a film such as this), and of course the classic Schwarzenegger one-liners uttered upon each ruthless dispatch of another hapless victim. Plus, by watching random Commando clips, you dispense with all those boring parts: you know, the parts advancing the narrative, i.e. the parts where Arnold’s not killing people or blowing s##t up. The real challenge is trying to figure out just which scene is the movie’s best.

Is it this one, Arnold’s first kill of the film? I love the stilted stoner dialogue (“Mellow out man”) delivered by the unarmed kidnapper. What was the dude's backup plan? Check out how Arnold offs him with one perfect shot from the gun he never even bothers to raise and aim. And I’m no firearms expert but that gun sure looks like it would blow someone’s head off, not just put a neat little hole in it.

How about this one? The bad dude Henriques manages to raise his arms after Arnold breaks his neck while the passengers mysteriously remain blissfully unaware of this carnage in their midst.

I’ve got a soft spot for this one. David Patrick Kelly, “Sully”, is a classic 80’s movie villain and for my money Arnold ends his miserable existence with the best one-liner of his career. Actually, it’s probably the single greatest line of dialogue in the history of cinema. You don’t believe me? Just watch. The final line’s pretty good too. James Bond did this stuff first but face it, Bond just isn’t all that funny. Arnold’s funny.

Ah, the infamous "Shed Scene". Hundreds of rounds of bullets and one severed arm prove no match for Arnold and some expertly wielded gardening implements. According to some YouTube commenters at least some DVD versions of the movie censor this scene. What's the thinking there? Who could possibly take the scene seriously? It parodies itself.

The final showdown with Bennett. Until this scene, the movie never really established the source of Bennett’s murderous grudge against Arnold’s character. Getting kicked out of an elite commando unit creates a need for lifelong revenge? Seems kind of lame. But at last the scales fall from our eyes during the final showdown. The wounded Schwarzenegger, uh, I mean John Matrix, psychologically manipulates Bennett into throwing away his gun so the two can engage in your classic mano a mano clash. How does “Matrix” do it? With a disturbing speech bursting with homoerotic sadomasochism. How else do you read this?

Put the knife in me and look me in the eye and see what's going on in there when you turn it…It’s between you and me. Don't deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on Bennett, let’s party.

On top of that, pay attention to the facial expressions on the face of the leather-and-chain-mail clad Bennett while Arnold tempts and taunts him. Just in case the words alone weren’t “subtle” enough to clue the audience in. Yes, in the end it’s the 1980’s version of Gore Vidal’s script for Ben-Hur ("I'm not gonna be overt. There won't be one line. But I can write it in such a way that the audience is going to feel that there is something emotional between these two that is not stated, but that blows a fuse in Messala. That he is spurned. So it's a love scene gone wrong"). “Let off some steam Bennett” indeed.

Or what the hell. If you don’t have time to bleed just cut to the chase. Skip all of the above and just watch the one clip that trims all the fat and extracts the movies’ true essence. Killing. Yes, witness every single killing in the entire movie packed into one explosive four-minute clip. Kudos to whoever put that together. Time well spent.

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