Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2016)
We revisit the heyday of the ultra-macho action star with 1985’s Commando. Retired warrior Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives in the mountains with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). He promises her that he won’t return to active duty, but the situation changes when someone starts to kill his also-retired – and supposedly hidden – men.
This threat becomes even real when baddies open fire on John in his home. They kidnap Jenny and Matrix learns what he’ll have to do to gain her return. Some thugs want him to kill the president of a Latin country called Val Verde so they can install their own leader. Either Matrix does the job or they’ll off Jenny.
Without any other option, Matrix accepts – but that doesn’t mean the villains have won, of course. As soon as his plane leaves LA, Matrix deals with the problem in his own manner. The rest of the flick follows the action as Matrix tries to keep Jenny alive and deal with a mix of other concerns – all while the clock ticks toward a deadline.
If you look up “gratuitous violence” in the dictionary, you’ll see a link to Commando. We watch two needlessly bloody killings within the movie’s first three minutes, and it doesn’t get better from there. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t object to graphic violence when the film needs it. I just don’t much care for the casual manner in which Commando throws out its bloodshed.
Though one could easily argue that this was the style of the era, and they’d be correct. While you’re in the dictionary, take a look at “80s cheese” and you’ll once again locate Commando.
Did any of us take this nonsense seriously back then? Maybe, but that seems hard to imagine. From start to finish, the film is so absurd that I started to wonder if the filmmakers intended it as a parody.
Then I thought back to the 80s and realized that they probably didn’t. No, I don’t think we’re supposed to view the movie as hard drama, but I also don’t believe we’re meant to see it as quite so idiotic. Comedic elements amuse simply because they’re not funny. Let’s look at this exchange between Arius (Dan Hedaya) and Jenny:
“Your father seems to be cooperating. You will be together with him soon. Won’t that be nice?”
“Not nearly as nice as watching him smash your face in!”
We’re supposed to cheer and holler little Jenny’s gumption. We don’t. Instead, we grimace at the dopiness of the whole thing and wonder who thought dialogue like that would sound cool.
Moments like that abound during Commando, one of the most stiff and awkward action films I’ve seen. Movie quips can be fun, but this one’s dialogue is so stiff that it distracts, as does the nature of the Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) character. She clearly exists as exposition and a plot device.
Cindy’s presence is absurd, and it makes no sense that Matrix would allow her to come along for the ride, as she’d detract from the mission. Again, I don’t expect realism from a flick like this, but at least a minor nod in the direction of logic would be nice.
Actually, I’d be happy if Commando made even rudimentary sense. It mangles its plot to match its desires, with no concept of internal consistency. One minute Matrix can take down an onslaught of men, but then he gets caught by a couple of beat cops? That scene exists solely so we can see Cindy shoot a rocket launcher to break Matrix out of the police van. Couldn’t they have invented a more logical manner to have this happen?
If the movie’s action excelled, I might be able to ignore these idiotic moments. Unfortunately, Commando can’t deliver in that department. If you like massive body counts and chaotic mayhem, you’ll feel differently.
As for me, I’d like to see action that goes beyond the ho-hum slaying on display here. Matrix just kills, kills, kills, and the movie never generates even the most rudimentary sense of excitement or drama. It’s all about the final death tally, as the film can’t deliver anything more interesting than blasts and bullets.
If I were 14 and it was the 80s again, I might be dumb/naïve enough to find enjoyment in Commando. However, it’s 2016 and I’m 49. Nostalgia can’t save this one, as it hasn’t aged well at all. I’m not sure it ever was anything but terrible, but 31 years after its release, Commando is unwatchable for anything other than camp value and mockery.