20 Years On: “Eraser”

With action films, sometimes all you need is just explosions and intense action sequences. A sensible storyline or anything resembling intelligence need not be included. Why? Because sometimes a good summer popcorn film is all one really needs to enjoy themselves at the movies.

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “Eraser”, is an absolutely ridiculous film, but one that’s got enough fun packed in it, that it’s still an enjoyable time.

This action thriller stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Two and a Half Men”, “Terminator Genisys”), James Caan (“The Throwaways”, “Wuthering High School”), Vanessa Williams (“Broad City”, “The Good Wife”), James Coburn (“Monster’s Inc.”, “Affliction”), and Robert Pastorelli (“Be Cool”, “Murphy Brown”).

The film is directed by Charles Russell (“I Am Wrath”, “Fringe”) and written by Tony Puryear (“Street Time”, “Popcorn Movie Review”) and Walton Green (“The Man in the High Castle”, “Killing Jesus”).

The film originally opened on June 21, 1996. The film would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award and one MTV Movie Award among a few other wins and an additional nomination.

This is one film I was absolutely excited about! Ever since a cousin of mine introduced me to it, I’ve just loved it. I’m not sure entirely why that is, but it found its way into my collection, and after watching it once more, I can see why! Here’s hoping that in another 10 to 20 years it still entertains me in all the ways it did this time.

What this film boils down to is a semi-nonsensically plotted action film. It’s a Schwarzenegger starring film, and as this was the mid-‘90s, it’s probably all you could expect from this man. Even now, all these years later it’s still what you can expect from him. If you’re more or less fine with that repetitiveness, good for you! If not, well, then this film may do nothing for you, not that it was trying to.

This film does have a story, but it’s quite thin and relies heavily on action sequences. It’s also got characters, but like with the story, they’re thin. There’s nothing that deeply invites you in, that makes you really care, which is semi-problematic as the story is also formulaic and you know the good guys (Schwarzenegger and Williams) are going to live no matter how the rest of the story turns out. This time around, I discovered I didn’t actually care about these two aspects of the film. There was enough keeping me interested, including Schwarzenegger’s and Williams’ highly likable characters, that wasn’t tied to action, and I just wanted to keep watching and find out the truth.

This film may largely be an action film, but it also has some slight elements of that of a thriller. Unlike true thrillers, these bits aren’t well created. They’re imbedded within the story enough, and that’s what will have you willing to go along with the rest of the film. As it turns out, that’s more or less what I felt when I discovered the film had 54 minutes left, but it didn’t feel like there should’ve been.

This aspect, in case I haven’t already mentioned it enough, is because this film is primarily an action film. There’s hardly a moment that doesn’t go by with out some bit of action. The sequences could be longer or short, small bursts. Hell, the opening scene is pretty much an action sequence, and when we really get to the meat of the story, Schwarzenegger is running through Williams’ house trying to save her, all the while avoiding a dangerous blast from a high tech weapon. Exciting sequences, but you don’t get to slow down. Remember our friend thriller? Yeah, he’s lurking nearby and doing his share.

On the effectiveness, and the execution of the action sequences, which have aged pretty well, they’re not bad, and certainly do the job they were designed for. Fun, non-stop, and exciting action, which was original enough for people to enjoy, was just what I needed! I hadn’t really known that I’d like these sequences again, or the whole film, but I definitely didn’t expect this from a film from the 1990s. I guess, like with films from the ‘60s and ‘70s, I expected sequences that are just dated and somewhat boring, lifeless even. They may have been exciting and inventive way back when, but now, not so much. I’ll grant you that you could make that argument here, but until that time arrives, I’ll just stick with my view of the action from this film.
That view, again, is pretty positive. I liked the sequences, just about equally, but really only had two that stood out the most, for very different reasons.

The first one made me a bit uneasy by one. This particular sequence involves an airplane, and Schwarzenegger trying to escape from it. Somehow, I just became a bit uncomfortable with him having to catch the falling parachute and get it on before he went splat on the Earth below. I’ve never skydived, and have heard plenty of horror stories, so this may be why. It was a decent and exciting sequence, even if you could tell there was some terrible CGI used, but that took a backseat to my wanting the whole thing to end.

My favorite of all the action has to be the big sequence that takes place in the zoo. After Schwarzenegger’s witness, Williams is put in danger and told to run, she goes to the local zoo. However, the bad guys are quick to track her down, and it becomes this big game of cat and mouse, hide and seek. Not only is there a decent shoot out in the zoo, but it turns out there’s more to use for defense than just guns. Zoo animals! In particular dangerous alligators, or were they crocodiles? Whichever they were, they’re deadly, and really helped with escaping the zoo and the bad guys.I’ve always loved this sequence, and it’s stayed with me for some time. Plus, it’s a bit more suspenseful than the others, but that’s because of the badly rendered CGI alligators trying too take a bite out of Schwarzenegger. Yeah, the one thing that remains consistent with older films, is how terrible the CGI animals, and other bits look. Thankfully you can look past this as you’re fully in the action and story.

And one more thing, just for fun, because I couldn’t find a way to weave this in and out of the piece. I couldn’t help but notice how the writers were aiming to give Schwarzenegger more catchy phrases that would land and be remembered in pop culture history. I can’t say if they were successful, mainly as I’ve never heard many people regard them or think, well, anything of them. I wonder if many people even know of the film. Still, the fact that I’ve never even head of one making one of those American Film Institute (AFI) lists of 100 somethings or best moments, (you know the types), it’s a safe bet that they never worked out the way they were supposed to. It definitely shows how much of an action vehicle this film was for Schwarzenegger.

Some of my favorite lines, that screamed catchphrase or something, were “You’re luggage.” He utters this one after fighting the really fake looking alligator, or crocodile, I’m not sure which. The last one is “They caught a train.” This one he says to Williams after she asks what happened to people left in a vehicle on the train tracks. Both mildly funny, but really just obnoxious.

Action films these days can’t just get by with loud explosions and fast adrenaline pumping chases. No, what seems to be demanded, and occasionally delivered upon, is some sort of intelligence and thought put into the action itself as well as the overall story. Every aspect has to be taken into consideration, and the action can’t just be there for he sake of calling it an action film. These are the films that are worth it and memorable, and go above that of simple popcorn summer film. Mind you, a mindless popcorn flick could be worth it, and if fortunate enough, it very well could be decades after it’s been released.

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