Specialist, The (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If I were in a kind mood, I might say that The Specialist attempts to be an atmospheric, dramatic thriller. On the other hand, if I wanted to be truthful, I could note that this film has two obvious assets (both of which are used to maximum advantage): Sylvester Stallone's biceps and Sharon Stone's breasts. Everything else, ultimately, is superfluous, as becomes apparent the moment you actually start to think about the story line.

Stallone is Ray Quick, an ex-CIA explosives specialist. Stone is May Munro, a woman bent on avenging the deaths of her parents. When she was a girl, she saw them murdered, and her whole reason for living has been to kill Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts) and his two cohorts in crime. To do this, she has recruited Ray. They talk on the phone and communicate by e-mail, but they never meet.

May, however, is not entirely on the level. She has made a deal with an old enemy of Ray's, Ned Trent (James Woods). Ned's motives are a little foggy, but it's clear that he wants to do something unpleasant to Ray, and he wields enough clout to get almost the entire Miami police force behind him in his search for the elusive specialist.

This movie is excruciatingly dumb. And, given the releases of Speed and Blown Away this summer, there's no dearth of explosion-based motion pictures. The only twist this one offers is that here, the bomber is the good guy (and he only blows up bad people - Ray has a creed about never catching an innocent bystander in a blast).

The atmosphere of The Specialist is peculiar. It's almost gothic, with dark settings, dim lighting, and a grandiose John Barry score (which might have been impressive somewhere else). The cinematographer clearly has a sense of style far in excess of what's warranted for this movie. Several scenes take place in misty surroundings, and the overall mood is relentlessly grim. No one appears to be having fun, least of all the actors. All of them, that is, except James Woods.

To say that Woods goes over-the-top would be to vastly understate what he accomplishes in this "performance." His acting is as far overboard as the director allows, and that's quite a distance. This sort of manic display is actually entertaining to watch, primarily because everything else offered by The Specialist is so bland and dreary.

It's always a bad sign when the most impressive feature of a motion picture is its visual effects. In this case, the memorable moments (if you ignore a scene where Woods literally foams at the mouth) occur when buildings blow up. Unfortunately, they don't take up much screen time, and to get from one to another, you have to endure the so-called plot that moves events along. No amount of pyrotechnics, bare flesh, and flexing muscles is worth that price.

Specialist, The (United States, 1994)

Director: Luis Llosa
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts
Screenplay: Alexandra Seros
Cinematography: Jeffrey Kimball
Music: John Barry
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 1994-10-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: