Eraser (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The release of Eraser begs the question: haven't there been enough action films already this summer? With the likes of Twister, Mission Impossible, The Phantom, Dragonheart, and The Rock floating around, do we really need Eraser? Probably not, but Hollywood has decided to give us this film, anyway. Besides, no one does it quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger -- or at least that's what Warner Brothers would have us believe. And, until fans stop flocking to see the latest offering from this human tree trunk, he'll keep coming back.

Eraser is the latest in a growing number of "high tech" action flicks (The Net, Hackers, and Mission Impossible all fit into that category). It takes the usual chases, explosions, and shoot-outs, and places them in plot that involves all sorts of computerized and electronic gadgetry. Often, as is the case here, not much attention is paid to whether the "science" is technologically feasible, but if something looks and sounds neat, why not use it?

Eraser will hearten the group of Schwarzenegger fans who have been depressed by their favorite star's ventures beyond the action realm (such as the bloated parody Last Action Hero and the completely unfunny Junior). This is Arnold at his muscle-bound, gun-toting best, mowing down bad guys without taking much of a breather. And, while Schwarzenegger is more of a personality than an actor, he has a solid supporting cast this time around, including Vanessa Williams, James Caan (thoroughly enjoying himself as the bad guy), Robert Pastorelli in the Joe Pesci-type sidekick role, and James Coburn.

The premise is moderately intriguing. Schwarzenegger is John Kruger, a Federal Marshal working for the Witness Security Department. It's his job to "erase" the identities of Federally-protected witnesses so that they survive long enough to testify in court. Occasionally, the job requires him to go to excessive lengths to keep someone alive, and Kruger frequently leaves a trail of bodies behind him. Not only that, but he's got more stamina than the Energizer Bunny. He can get stabbed through the hand and shot in the shoulder and still use that arm to do some amazing things.

Things heat up for Kruger when his latest client, a former employee of Cyrez Technology named Lee Cullen (Williams), is attacked and nearly killed by a group of assassins packing a "rail gun" -- a nasty weapon that uses electromagnetic pulses to propel projectiles at incredibly fast rates of speed. Cullen has in her possession a disk crammed with information that could incriminate a number of highly-placed government officials in an illegal gun running operation, including the Undersecretary of Defense, several crooked FBI agents, and Kruger's boss, Robert Deguerin (Caan). As soon as Kruger takes the woman into his protection, he finds himself framed for murder and on the run from just about every law enforcement agent. His only hope -- unlock the disk's secrets and prove his innocence to his boss' boss (Coburn).

There are some definite similarities between Eraser and Mission Impossible. Both involve betrayals and government cover-ups, both have plots that revolve around information contained on disks, both feature a break-in to a supposedly-secure installation, and both contain several high-energy action sequences. Ultimately, however, Eraser is marginally more enjoyable. Not only is Schwarzenegger a better action hero than Tom Cruise, but the plotline of this film, while far from a masterpiece of originality, isn't filled with the silly, convoluted twists that choked Mission Impossible. And, perhaps best of all, Eraser has a lot of delightfully corny dialogue (including Arnold calmly telling a dead alligator, "You're luggage").

While most of Eraser is pretty standard stuff, there are a few fun variations. One big chase sequence takes place in a zoo, and involves a showdown with some hungry alligators. There's also an exciting skydiving scene that has Schwarzenegger playing chicken with a crippled 727 while unable to get his parachute to function properly. Finally, several of the gun fights, because they feature rail guns, are a little more interesting than standard shoot-outs. The movie also consciously avoids several of the worst action-film standbys: the lead male and female do not fall in love, and, thankfully, they aren't always at each other's throats. Cullen accepts that Kruger is trying to help her, and decides not to fight him every step of the way.

It will be interesting to see how this film fares, emerging as it does in the wake of so much previous chaos and mayhem, not to mention going toe-to-toe with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (although I'm sure the target audiences are vastly different). Frankly, I'm getting tired of all this action -- Eraser is fun in a limited sort of way, but it would have been more enjoyable if it had come out in a less-crowded market. Regardless, the film is available now, and if you're on the lookout for another loud roller-coaster movie ride, or if you consider yourself a Schwarzenegger fan, it's worth a look.

Eraser (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1996-06-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1