Slick, disposable, entertaining; that's Arnie...
"Nobody gives him a raw deal!" boasted the tagline for Raw Deal, referring of course to Schwarzenegger who has indeed received a decidedly shitty stick. He's Mark Kaminsky, a former FBI agent kicked out of the ranks for his rough handling of a murder suspect. Now working as the Sheriff of a small town in North Carolina, he passes his time picking up traffic violators and cop impersonators. Coupled with his disintegrating homelife with an increasingly drunken wife who resents him for his demotion, it's obvious Kaminsky's self-instigated fall from grace needs to be turned around pronto, and fortunately someone from his past has an offer he can't refuse.
FBI Chief Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin) was a father figure for Mark in his days as an agent, and he approaches our hero with a proposition. Shannon's son, following in his father's footsteps as an agent, has been brutally slain by members of the Petrovina family Mafia. Incensed by his personal loss and Petrovita's (Sam Wanamaker) increasing trade in drugs through the city, Shannon has been putting aside a little nest egg to fund a personal war against the mob. $45,000 might not seem like a lot, but it will buy you a heavily-armed Austrian Death Machine, and after a little persuasion Kaminsky agrees to be just that. He'll ingratiate himself with the mob and take it down from the inside, affording him the opportunity to flex his oiled muscles and wave big guns around. So far so good then.
Mark starts as he means to go on by faking his own death in a suitably excessive manner, ie. blowing up a naphtha plant after reporting he's checking out a break in. Nobody stops to question the absence of a body, and so he has a clean slate with which to work his way into the mob hierarchy. Shannon advises that the quickest way to get noticed would be to take out one of Petrovita's rivals, which he does with just the right level of finesse to catch the eye of Petrovita's right hand man Rocca (Paul Shenar).
Needless to say Mark's arrival doesn't sit well with Rocca's established muscle Max (the irrepressible Robert Davi) who knows a rat when he smells one. Not at all convinced by Kaminski's cover story and natty new moniker, (the natty Joseph P. Brenner) Max would rather snuff him right there and then, but Rocca affords him the opportunity to prove his worth before rushing to any snap judgements. So begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse (though not nearly as tension-filled as that phrase would suggest) between Kaminski and the mob, with Max constantly looking for a way to validate his suspicions.
Raw Deal plays like the kind of film Steven Seagal would have thrived on 15 years ago, albeit with decidedly more karate than guns alone. Schwarzenegger is infinitely more believable in the muscle role than the pony-tailed paunch sporter, however, displaying none of the inane macho or pseudo-spiritual mannerisms Seagal insists on infusing his adventures with. Displaying a fair amount of charisma as he goes, Arnie's progression through the Mafia initiation procedure is a sinful pleasure beyond what one might have reason to hope for. That's not to say it exceeds many expectations, just that as is typical of most Arnie flicks Raw Deal is wonderfully slick and to the point.
There's no attempt at unnecessary characterisation, as that would simply get in the way of Arnie's knee connecting with some goon's fragile face. Rather everyone is pretty well defined upon arrival and the path of least resistance is strictly adhered to throughout. There's a little bit of pleasing friction between Kaminski and Max as things progress, complicated when one of Max's ex molls Monique (Kathryn Harrold) takes a shine to the Immensely Muscled One. Perhaps more attention could have been paid to Kaminski's issues of conscience as he is gradually seduced by Monique but, oh, what's that over there? Another face looking to meet a knee? Best get on with it then...
Similar lip service is paid to developing the dynamic between Petrovita, Rocca and to an extent Max, as Raw Deal has no ideas above it's station. Here the Bad Guys are definitely bad, and everyone knows what happens to people like that. Given that Mafia types tend to be so family-oriented, it's perhaps surprising (or then again maybe not) that Raw Deal leaves no room in it's 100 minute narrative for dinner over spaghetti or any other Italian household concerns. Perhaps a little leverage by Kaninski of Petrovita's relatives could have been dabbled in; a chance to bond, a crisis of conscience after betraying a new friend but, oh, what's that over there? Another face looking to meet a knee? Best get on with it then...
In the truest tradition of internal shakedowns, everybody gets it right in the ass in ascending order of importance; first Max, then Rocca and finally Petrovita himself. Things come to a head for Mark when he is duped by max into almost shooting Shannon; a moment's hesitation blowing his cover and necessitating a more direct approach to all this infiltration during the final reel. Hence Schwarzenegger goes through the by now obligatory "arming up" routine where he shows his pecs, loads up an apocalyptic arsenal of projectile weaponry, shoves it all in a carry bag and heads out to deliver the coup d? grace for any poor M16-weilding extra stupid enough to still be hanging around.
In this instance Kaminski shows a shoot-out can be a game of two halves. First he heads to a nearby quarry where Petrovita is stashing his 'gear'. After knocking out the windscreen of his Oldsmobile, Kaminski proceeds to drive nonchalantly around the slag heaps MP5 in one hand, the other on the wheel, dealing out a generous portion of lead dessert to Petrovita's lackeys as he listens to "Satisfaction" on his Stones cassette. It's the kind of firefight where stationary snipers on top of giant heaps of gravel can't hit a barn door with their rifles, whilst Kaminski returns fire with a piffling sub-machine gun held in one hand whilst driving about bumpy roads, invariably managing to hit every single bad guy first time. Still, who are we to judge, having never attempted a similar feat.
The grand final? quickly follows as Kaminsky makes his way to Petrovita's bar hideout where he and Rocca are hiding along with, gasp, Baxter (Joe Regalbuto); the man responsible for ejecting Mark from the FBI. It seems Baxter is the mole who has been revealing the actions of previous undercover operatives to the Mob, thus presenting Kaminsky with a legitimate reason to get his own back by busting a cap in the scumbag's ass. After the henchmen have bitten the dust, apparently in ascending order of size, Kaminsky finally metes out harsh judgements to first Rocca then Petrovita, both receiving a similarly gratuitous level of Violent Demise Juice.
Raw Deal succeeds by never aiming above the bar, thus ensuring it never fails. Why inject a flick like this with any kind of humanity when it's so easy for character and plot development to backfire? The answer is simply to set up a situation where Arnie can knock about some bad guys in the name of Truth and Justice without ever having to worry about the consequences. Bad Guys have no rights when Kaminski is in town, and here he makes no concessions.
Director John Irvin appropriately hits the autopilot button early on, paying tribute to Gary M. De Vore and Norman Wexler's decidedly efficient screenplay that pares all previous undercover cop movies down to the bare essentials. "No Surprises" seems to be their motto, and that's exactly what we the viewer get. It's incredibly difficult to criticise or comment on a film like this when it has so obviously set it's sights on being utterly average and hits it's mark perfectly. By no means a jewel in the crown of Arnie's career, Raw Deal isn't exactly detrimental either, serving instead as a perfectly acceptable stepping stone to greater things.
This is not the kind of film you'll want to rush out and buy unless you're after the full Schwarzenegger catalogue for your DVD collection. Likewise it isn't a movie you'd have any right to slate. As such it can never hope to achieve grandeur, but at least for once you get the impression that was never the intention. Remarkably acceptable, to coin a phrase.
Craig Disko has awarded this film 3 out of 5 Disko Acceptability Indicators.
Sam Wanamaker (Petrovita)
Paul Shenar (Rocca)
Kathryn Harrold (Monique)
Robert Davi (Max)
Darren McGavin (Harry Shannon)