Should I Watch..? 'Eraser' (1996)
What's the big deal?
Eraser is an action thriller film released in 1996 and was directed by American Chuck Russell. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a specialist US Marshal working in witness protection who must both defend a whistle-blower from dark forces as well as stop corrupt officials selling high-tech weapons on the black market. The film's cast also includes James Caan, Vanessa Williams, James Coburn and James Cromwell. Despite a surprisingly high budget estimated to be around $100 million, the film made more than $242 million worldwide and also received a nomination for an Academy Award. However, the film received a lukewarm reception from critics and today, it is regarded as an all-too-generic action film amongst Schwarzenegger's more stellar efforts.
What's it about?
John Kruger is the top US Marshal working for the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) who specialises in "erasing" high-profile witnesses by faking their deaths and changing their identities. Kruger is assigned by his boss Arthur Beller to protect Lee Cullen, an executive with private security firm Cyrez. Lee has discovered that her corrupt boss - Cyrez CEO William Donahoe - is planning to sell prototype weaponry on the black market and is prepared to testify against him in exchange for the FBI's protection.
After acquiring evidence against Donahoe, Lee hands a computer disc with the evidence to the FBI where it finds itself passed to Undersecretary of Defence Daniel Harper - the true mastermind behind the scheme. After Lee's house is targeted by hitmen wielding electronic pulse rifles, John saves the day and goes on the run with Lee in order to keep her safe. John rightly suspects that a mole exists within WITSEC and while that remains the case, they can never be truly safe...
What's to like?
Fans of the Governator will be delighted with this old-school nonsense which feels as stripped-back and bare as some of Arnie's earlier hits like Commando. The film is relentlessly aggressive from the beginning and it basically doesn't stop until all the baddies are dead, dying or burnt to a crisp. Action fans will get a kick from seeing Schwarzenegger deliver the goods once again as the film's many action sequences are noisy, explosive and well shot. The addition of the futuristic railguns with their infra-red sights adds another element and offers something a little different for viewers used to such scenes of violence.
Schwarzenegger and Williams don't really engage you as our hapless heroes but the film has a decent core of villainy with established actors like Cromwell and Caan chewing their way through the scenary. But my favourite cast member was Pastorelli playing the most stereotypical Italian-American character outside of The Simpsons but at least he provides some humour to break up the film's single-minded pursuit of bloodlust. Viewers used to some of Arnie's more mindless back catalogue will know exactly what to expect here - guns, grenades and a handy selection of one-liners.
- The company Cyrez was originally Cyrex but the real-life company Cyrix complained about the similarities. As the film had already been completed, dialogue had to be redubbed and logos digitally altered in post-production.
- Director Russell and producer Arnold Kopelson had a serious falling-out during the shoot. The only reason the film was ever completed (over budget and behind schedule) was because Schwarzenegger was friends with both of them and acted as an intermediary.
- The script had so many revisions from different writers that it reportedly looked like a rainbow. John Milius, Frank Darabont & William Wisher Jr all performed script revisions - there were many times when scenes were ready to be shot before people realised they weren't required any more!
What's not so good?
To be honest, the film is too middle-of-the-road to be anything other than a mildly diverting sideshow. The script never flows as it should with various threads and subplots introduced and then forgotten a few moments later. It also feels comprised of a number of off-cuts and discarded ideas from similar action movies as there is nothing at all to provide any real surprises or thrills.
Part of the problem with Eraser is its stubborn refusal to be anything other than a simplistic action flick, something to keep its star preoccupied while he thought about running for office in a few years time. Most of his earlier films like The Running Man and The Terminator were considerably more engaging than this film which makes no attempt to offer any shocks, surprises or tension. The film's sole purpose is merely to have its star blow stuff up and shoot lots of guns and at the end of the day, I need a bit more than that. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than a brainless, brawny festival of bullets and machoism. But action fans, who are well catered for by Hollywood studios, are used to better efforts than this and especially since The Matrix which demonstrated how action movies could be just a few short years later.
Should I watch it?
Only if there was no alternative - action movies are released at an alarming rate and the genre moves fast. Eraser, by contrast, feels as inert and lumpen as... well, as an eraser. The film's confused script and unengaging lead pair make this a competent entry into a crowded genre but ultimately one that's probably best forgotten. Arnold has done plenty more that's better than this...
Great For: undemanding action fans, Schwarzenegger stalwarts
Not So Great For: paying punters, actual Witness Protection officers, Williams' acting coach
What else should I watch?
Schwarzenegger has compiled an enviable back catalogue of action movies that have become firm favourites, from his muscle-clad breakthrough in 1982's Conan The Barbarian to jungle warrior Dutch in Predator and his defining role as the T-800 cyborg assassin in The Terminator and most of its sequels. He has also branched out into comedy occasionally, finding great success alongside Danny DeVito in Twins and somewhat less success in Kindergarten Cop. But he will forever be associated with the leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding, time-travelling sharp-shooter who was last seen in the somewhat clunky Terminator Genisys.
Action movie lovers are generally spoilt for choice these days with classics like Die Hard becoming almost mythical. More modern options include the aforementioned The Matrix, Stallone's increasingly cheesy The Expendables series which also satisfies the more nostalgic viewer as well, Daniel Craig's punchier interpretation of Bond in the likes of Skyfall and Quentin Tarantino's epic and bloody tale of revenge Kill Bill.
John "The Eraser" Kruger
Vanessa L. Williams
WITSEC Chief Arthur Beller
Tony Puryear & Walon Green *
Release Date (UK)
23rd August, 1996
Action, Mystery, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Sound Effects Editing
© 2016 Benjamin Cox