Commando and Me
Everyone has their favorite bad movie. You know it’s awful and that you shouldn’t waste your time. But if you’re flipping through the channels and find it, you’ll spend the next 20 minutes watching. It’s one of those movies that’s entertainingly bad, as opposed to painfully bad.
Without question my favorite bad movie is Commando, from 1985. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Commando was the first movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger got his name above the title. In 1985, despite starring in the Conan movies and The Terminator, Arnold was just emerging as a bona fide star. But he wasn’t quite there yet. In 1985, he also had to share top billing with Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja.
Commando feels like a ripoff of Rambo, and certainly fits in that group of mindless 1980s action films. So why is it my favorite? I can’t completely explain it, but how many movies combine cheesy dialogue, atrocious action scenes, and squirm-inducing homoerotic tension? If you want to define “unintentional comedy,” simply watch Commando. Plus, it’s only 90 minutes.
The “plot” has Arnold as Colonel John Matrix, a retired head of a commando unit. A group of mercenaries kidnap his daughter Jenny to force him to assassinate a Latin American president. Instead, Arnold just goes after the bad guys.
Recently, for reasons that are quite unexplainable, I sat through Commando again. In the tradition of ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, I kept a running diary so I could share this unique experience:
:05 – This is the first time you see Alyssa Milano as Jenny, Matrix’s daughter. This is quite disconcerting, and not just because she and Arnold don’t look anything alike. It’s the “Drew Barrymore Factor.” When a child actress grows up to be a very sexy woman, I can’t help feeling weird when I see her as a child again. Maybe it’s just me.
:06 – The filmmakers were obviously emphasizing that Matrix and his daughter lead a sweet and innocent life together. We get shots of laughing, fishing, playfully eating ice cream. But the audience still might not get it. That’s why we also see them... wait for it... feeding a deer. I think we got it now.
:07 – I hate to break up this family lovefest, but where’s Mom? They never say.
:09 – Matrix’s old commanding officer, General Kirby, arrives at the Matrix house. Notice how these people never call first?
:10 – Kirby tells his men to “secure the area.” I guess this means having two soldiers stand next to each other at the front door.
:11 – Kirby describes his men as “real good.” Yeah, we can tell.
:12 – The bad guys shoot the “real good” soldiers within seconds of each other. The Gotham City Police Dept would have done better.
:12, continued – Jenny, the daughter of an expert soldier, tries to elude capture by hiding under the bed. The bad guys would never think to look there, would they?
:13 – Matrix opens a door and the body of a soldier falls through. So the bad guys, while trying to kidnap Jenny, take enough time to take a dead body and prop it against the door? Guess you gotta admire their dramatic flair.
:16 – We get our first real glimpse of Bennett, who is a former commando working with the bad guys. He is pissed at Matrix for having him thrown out of the unit. He is also wearing a chain mail shirt that looks like it was left over from a King Arthur movie.
:18 – The president Matrix is told to kill is from “Val Verde.” IMDb reports that this fictional Latin American nation has been used in several action movies. Just thought you might like to know that.
:19 – Arnold’s obligatory “I’ll be back” line. People forget that he used that line in many movies besides The Terminator.
:20 – First cheesy one-liner: Matrix tells one of the bad guys, Sully (David Patrick Kelly), “You’re a funny guy. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”
:22 – On a flight, Matrix breaks the neck of the guy next to him, and no one notices. At first I thought this was ridiculous, but then I remembered some flights I’ve been on. Also prompts cheesy one-liner #2: “Don’t disturb my friend, he’s dead tired.”
:26 – The man behind this whole plot against Matrix is Arius, the former dictator of Val Verde who Matrix helped overthrow. Clearly a Hispanic part, so do you hire a Hispanic actor? If you’re the Commando producers, you hire Dan Hedaya, a Jewish actor who grew up in Brooklyn (Hedaya is best know for playing Carla’s ex-husband on “Cheers”). To compensate, Hedaya sports an over-the top Hispanic accent that’s right up there with Pacino’s in Scarface.
:29 – No one, and I mean no one, says, “DO IT!!!” like Arnold.
:36 – Matrix picks up a phone booth with a man inside. Then he takes on security guards in a mall. Arnold vs. mall security. Really? Is that any fair? And there are dozens of security guards. What mall is this? I’ve seen government buildings that don’t have that many guards.
:39 – Rae Dawn Chong plays the stewardess who helps Matrix. Chong was famous at some point, right?
:40 – More cheesy one-liners as Matrix holds Sully over a cliff and says, “Remember when I said I was going to kill you last? I lied” and then drops Sully over. Then he tells Chong “I let him go.”
:46 – Matrix takes on Cooke, played by Bill Duke (before he became a director). Cooke identifies himself as a former Green Beret to which Matrix replies “I eat Green Berets for breakfast and right now I’m very hungry.” Did the screenwriter keep a straight face while writing this line? Was he paid for this?
:47 – Movie history is made as Cooke tells Matrix “F- You A-Hole” to which Matrix cleverly replies “F- You A-Hole” in what I am sure is the first time “F- You A-Hole” was ever used as consecutive lines of dialogue.
:53 – Matrix says that he is going shopping and proceeds to the army surplus store. Oh no! It’s after hours and the store is closed. Good thing there’s an handy bulldozer near by. Gives a whole new meaning to “drive-thru.”
:55 – Matrix proceeds to the back room of the surplus store to pick up a machine gun, bazooka, rocket launcher and dozens of grenades. Every surplus store I have been in only had clothes, luggage and camping equipment. Maybe next time I should ask for the back room.
1:02 – Pre-stardom cameo by Bill Paxton as a Coast Guard operator.
1:03 – One of the bad guys remarks that “Slitting a little girl’s throat is like cutting warm butter.” Coming soon to a Hallmark card near you.
1:07 – Here’s that seminal 80's staple, the “Putting Your Gear On” montage.
1:10 – The final battle begins as Matrix throws a knife from each hand at the same time, killing two bad guys.
1:11 – I realize that Bennett is wearing leather pants. Let’s see. A chain mail shirt and leather pants. Nope, no homoerotic subtext there.
1:13 – For those who have not seen Commando, try to picture this sequence. Matrix fires the machine gun. Bad guys die in straight line, like Rockettes kicking. Cut back to Matrix blasting away, cut again to bad guys dying in line. Repeat and repeat and repeat.
1:14 – To have a little variety some of the bad guys die in slow motion. There’s no dramatic reason for this, but why not?
1:15 – Matrix actually scalps someone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that movies just don’t have enough scalping.
1:18 – The bad guys decide to run right at the machine gun fire, setting a new standard for incompetent henchmen. They make the Imperial Stormtroopers look like the Spartans from 300.
1:19 – Another convenience. The villain’s fortress has a room with steam and pipes right underneath.
1:21 – Matrix, facing off against Bennett says, “You can beat me. Put the knife in me. Look me in the eye. See what’s going on in there when you turn it. Don’t deprive yourself of some pleasure. Let’s party.” Bennett, practically foaming at the mouth and looking near orgasmic, says, “I can beat you!!” and the fight is on. Is this homoerotic subtext anymore or just text? You tell me.
1:24 – After a long fight, Matrix finishes the job by throwing a pipe through Bennett. The pipe pins Bennett against the wall and steam pours through leading to the second-to-last cheesy one liner “Let off some steam Bennett.”
1:25 – Final cheesy one liner: “Did you leave anything for me?” “Just bodies.”
1:26 – Kirby says, (obviously thinking of a sequel) “Until the next time” and Arnold replies, “No chance.” It did seem that this was being set up as a franchise, but I suppose it was never popular enough to spawn Commando 2.
1:27 – As the credits roll, we hear the rock ballad “We Fight For Love” by Power Station. Remember Power Station? Neither did I.
So there you have it. For the record, Arnold kills 81 people in the movie. But is that really enough? Kirby did say, “Until the next time.” It’s not too late. Arnold can’t be governor forever. If Rambo can come back, why not Col. John Matrix? Just give me a story credit, or at least “Special Thanks.”
September 4, 2008