Arnold Schwarzenegger was approaching his peak as one of the 1980s’ preeminent action heroes when he made COMMANDO, a mindless, violent, and oh-so-fun bullet-and-blood-fest with the director of FIRESTARTER and ROLLER BOOGIE. It’s practically the epitome of old-school action, when stuntmen, not computers, did stunts, and if you needed your star to run from an explosion, he did it, not jump onto an airbag with a CGI explosion green-screened behind him. And one COMMANDO is worth more than a dozen TRANSPORTERs or FAST AND FURIOUSes in my book. It’s a B-picture alright, but with no padding, and it delivers exactly what it should.
Schwarzenegger was still green as an actor at this point, but who better at the time could have played retired Special Forces colonel John Matrix in a Joel Silver production? This time, it’s personal for Matrix when his daughter Jenny (future CHARMED cutie Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped by Bennett (THE ROAD WARRIOR’s Vernon Wells), a psycho Matrix kicked out of the service years earlier, and Bennett’s new boss Arias (Dan Hedaya), a former Latin America dictator Matrix’s unit helped overthrow.
To get Jenny back, all Matrix has to do is assassinate the rightfully elected president of Arias’ former country and help him regain the palace. Ha! Why do that when he can demolish a mall, toss bad guys off a cliff, destroy a motel room, ram a bulldozer through a surplus store window, steal a seaplane, and roar and rip his way across L.A., always leaving behind a well-timed quip (“I let him go.”) and a trail of bodies? Rae Dawn Chong is charming in a tough and thankless role as an innocent bystander who becomes Arnold’s sidekick.
Steven E. de Souza’s screenplay is deliriously brainless (from a random map left at a fuel depot and a photograph tacked to a wall, Matrix can deduce precisely where Arias is holding his daughter), but who cares? We’re watching COMMANDO to see Schwarzenegger shoot a lot of guns and kill a bunch of bad guys, and director Mark Lester allows him to do just that. Armed with a Silver budget that buys plenty of explosives, blanks, and Jeeps to destroy, Lester and his experience in drive-in pictures manages to create a streamlined crowd-pleaser perfect for a brain on hold.
Lester assembled a nice supporting cast, including David Patrick Kelly (THE WARRIORS), Bill Duke (later in PREDATOR), Bill Paxton (with Arnold in THE TERMINATOR and TRUE LIES), Chelsea Field, Branscombe Richmond, Bob Minor, Michael Delano, and James Olson (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) as Richard Crenna. James Horner recycles his one 1980s action score that’s virtually identical to his 48 HRS. If the mall where Schwarzenegger chases David Patrick Kelly looks familiar, yep, it’s the one used in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and CHOPPING MALL (but no longer exists in this form).