Arnold Schwarzenegger worked with THE DOGS OF WAR director John Irvin in 1986's RAW DEAL, a bloody action picture shot in Chicago and in producer Dino de Laurentiis’ home base of North Carolina. RAW DEAL is probably Arnold’s least-liked film of the ‘80s, and though it hits the requisite action beats and throws up plenty of stunts and shootouts, it plays a little flat. It’s also the picture where the Austrian star attempts to say, “He molested, murdered, and mutilated her.”
It doesn’t help that Schwarzenegger is miscast as something of a regular guy, Mark Kaminsky, who was kicked out of the FBI under pressure and now makes his living as the sheriff of a quiet North Carolina town, complete with a bitchy alcoholic wife (Blanche Baker). So he jumps at the chance to help his old FBI boss Harry Shannon (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER’s Darren McGavin) get back at the Chicago mob family of Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker), whose goons killed Shannon’s son.
With Arnold asked to do more acting in RAW DEAL than he had in his earlier films, Irvin wisely supported his star with a solid roster of character actors, none of whom are outstanding here (how can they with a drab screenplay concocted by four different writers?), but certainly take some of the load off Schwarzenegger’s shoulders. In addition to McGavin, who supplies pathos, and the silky Wanamaker, RAW DEAL offers Ed Lauter as a typically tough cop, Steven Hill as a rival gangster, Kathryn Harrold as a moll with another side to her, Paul Shenar and Robert Davi as gunsels, Joe Regalbuto as a crusading politician, and rough-faced Victor Argo even turns up wielding a rod in the violent opening.
One weakness of the script is its relative lack of motivation for Kaminsky to get involved. Although Shannon’s impetus for contacting him is the death of his son, he doesn’t send Mark on a revenge mission. In fact, it’s not clear what his job is. Sure, he’s to join Patrovita’s mob as a hired gunman (using the name Joey Brenner), but he doesn’t wear a wire or collect evidence to use in court, and he certainly isn’t trying to kill for revenge. When he finally wipes out all the bad guys in the bloody finale, one wonders why he didn’t do it an hour earlier.
It isn’t until the final reel that RAW DEAL finally kicks into gear. Up to then, Schwarzenegger had been something of a passive hero, so it’s a thrill to finally see him take charge. Too little, too late, but Schwarzenegger and Irvin are too proficient in the action genre to produce a total dud.