My Favourite Arnie Movie – Eraser (1996)

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With Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the big screen in The Last Stand, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at their favourite Arnie movies. Next up, Helen Murdoch with 1996’s Eraser…

Arnie versus an alligator sums up the absurdity and genius of his 1996 outing Eraser, and I absolutely love it. Co-starring James Caan and Vanessa Williams, Eraser follows US Marshall John ‘Eraser’ Kruger (Schwarzenegger) on his mission to find a mole within the Witness Protection program. Naturally what ensues is a significant amount of violence, more puns than you can shake a stick at, and good old Arnie killing everything in sight.

Directed by Charles Russell (or Chuck as he’s now known) Eraser is the best Arnie film as it’s his last film before his downward spiral i.e. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Batman & Robin, Jingle all the Way and so on. Eraser sticks in my mind as it’s one of the only Arnie films I was allowed to watch as a kid, and I loved the explosions and the over the top acting from James Caan’s villain. I couldn’t find fault with it then and I still can’t now. Watching an Arnie film you’re not expecting Oscar wining acting or a logical plot, you watch it for the gunfights and implausible antics of a seemingly indestructible man. In Eraser, Arnie gets impaled in the hand by a nail, poisoned, jumps out of a plane without a parachute, gets a parachute and lands on a car, fights alligators and so on. The absurdity of his films is what makes him the greatest action star of all time.

Eraser boasts one of Arnie’s best villains – the impeccable James Caan. Unlike his previous films when it’s all about muscle and power, Caan’s US Marshall is no match physically. It’s the old age story of betrayal that makes Caan a great villain, he’s heartless and all he cares about is making money from his weapon deals. Eraser is packed with a ton of plot holes (how does Caan betray his protégé so easily), but so is every Arnie film and once again it doesn’t matter. The banter between Caan and Arnie is first rate and although the finale is overblown and stupid (Arnie emerges at one point armed with two rail guns, lifting them with ease and blasting people away) it’s brilliant from start to finish. By not having Arnie kill the main antagonist in the final battle adds to the unique nature of Eraser.

As with all Arnie film,s there’s a damsel in distress on hand for him to save. This time it’s Vanessa Williams as witness Lee Cullen and she does the right thing when acting in an Arnie film – have fun with it and don’t take it seriously. She’s a good wing woman and with backup from sidekick Johnny Casteleone (a superbly cast Robert Pastorelli) they provide the big man with a romantic plotline and a comic character he can riff off. Arnie is at his best when he’s surrounded by a good cast who step back and let him do his thing, and that’s exactly why Eraser works. True it’s a bog standard action adventure film, but Eraser has a heart and it capitalises on Arnie’s wooden acting and big muscles.

Eraser was received averagely by critics and audiences, but I find it one of his most re-watchable films largely because of the childhood sentimentality it has for me. If we’re talking what Arnie film is the best then The Terminator wins hands down. But if I’m going to watch one of his again and again it’s Eraser, even if it’s purely for the line “You’re luggage” after he shoots a CGI alligator.

Helen Murdoch

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