Commando (1985)

(On TV, September 2016) I had managed to avoid seeing Commando until now, and it strikes me that this is exactly the kind of movie they’re talking about when they’re talking about generic 1980s action movies. This is the archetypical one: eighties atmosphere, straightforward plot, ho-hum action sequences, a pre-prime Arnold Schwarzenegger (physically impressive, hugely charismatic but not yet comfortable as an actor or taking full advantage of his persona) and Regan-era politics—or whatever passes for them. This, I’ll hasten to clarify, doesn’t make Commando any good. In fact, it’s terrible in many ways: from the get-go, in which a father-daughter-bonding sequence seems to skirt self-parody, this is a film directed without grace or deeper ambition: It simply moves from one generic action sequence to the next without smoothing over the inanity of its plot points. Schwarzenegger’s acting is not good, the lovely Rae Dawn Chong is asked to deliver some rotten lines, Vernon Wells does the best he can in a ridiculous character … and so on. Clunky, naïve and unpolished, it’s a wonder why Commando has endured even today. But, of course, it has Schwarzenegger, a clever succession of chases and explosions, and just enough substance to matter even as other similar movies have disappeared in time. The pacing moves at a breakneck speed, to the point where it’s hard to begrudge anything to a film that wraps up neatly within 90 minutes. Commando is a template more than a film, but—wow—was it ever imitated afterwards. Consider it a lesson in whether it’s better to do something good or memorable.

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