Average in every way thriller with some really silly guns but no surprises.
Having dabbled, mostly unsuccessfully, in high-concept comedy and self-parody, in 1996 Arnie returned to what he does best - action movies. It was a welcome return to his old stomping ground for all fans of the huge Austrian, but more than a little disappointing that he chose to do so in the brainless Eraser. While films that do not require the viewer to engage their brain can be hugely enjoyable, they generally only work if the producers of the movie haven't done likewise. What you then end up with, as with Eraser, is a witless waste of time.
From the director of The Mask, Eraser centres around US Marshall John Kruger (Schwarzenegger, in an unusual role as a character called John - will the madness never end?), the titular 'Eraser', and the best there is in the Federal Witness Protection Scheme. His job is to safeguard the lives of witnesses in important trials, to stop them meeting with any unfortunate 'accidents' before their day in court. This he does by faking their deaths, erasing all records of their lives, and providing them with new identities. All seems pretty reasonable so far, right? Now enter the plot.
An employee of a major US weapons manufacturer, Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams) has approached the FBI with evidence indicating that her employers are selling arms to terrorist organisations abroad. The feds then ask her to steal records, in the form of a computer disc, of these transactions for them so that they can use the evidence in a criminal trial for the crime of high treason. Caught by her boss (James Cromwell), who promptly tops himself, Lee must escape the building and rely on the FBI for her protection. Big mistake.
Entirely unaware of what her assistance would do to her life, she is in for a bit of a shock when Kruger turns up and tells her that she must leave behind all elements of her current existence and go into hiding. Unsurprisingly she doesn't take too warmly to this, and goes home instead, where nasty men with big guns are waiting to substantially shorten her stay on the planet. Rescued by Kruger, she finally agrees to go to a safe house in Manhattan, and stays there with instructions to scarper should she hear from him.
Having satisfied himself that Lee is safe, Kruger returns to work, only to find that things are not at all well. Informed by his mentor and friend, Robert Deguerin (James Caan) that somebody is killing their charges, the pair set off with a group of marshals to 'live contact' their witnesses and move them to new locations. As it turns out, the people killing the witnesses are the people (or at least some of them) entrusted with their safety, to wit Deguerin (yes, that's right, you've guessed it - in an act of stunning originality, the hero's mentor is the bad guy) and a small number of others, who have sold out, and who are most eager to find out Miss Cullen's whereabouts. It seems that the people at the weapons firm have friends in high places, and they stand to lose a lot of money, if not a lot more, if she testifies.
Kruger must find her before they do, and after a brief firefight aboard the marshals aeroplane, he disembarks at an altitude of several thousand feet. This is where things get really silly. Leaving the plane some considerable time after his parachute pack, Kruger speeds through the air and manages to catch it, strap it on and deploy the canopy. As if this wasn't enough, the plane almost rams him, causing him to have to use his emergency 'chute, which he manages to deploy mere metres above the ground. Landing feet first on the roof of a car hard enough to buckle the roof, Arnie then gets up and walks away as if nothing had happened.
Is that all? No - fear not, for the silliness continues. Meeting up with Lee in the fictional 'New York City Zoo', stopping to fight a very poorly rendered CGI crocodile and deliver a bad one-liner ("You're luggage"), he takes her to another refuge while they workout what to do next. Meanwhile, Deguerin has persuaded his boss, Chief Beller (James Coburn) that it is in fact Kruger who is the traitor in the department, and so he becomes the subject of a manhunt, so must add to his to do list 'Clear Name'.
It transpires that the weapons firm Lee worked for has been developing a handheld rail gun which can fire aluminium slugs at near light speed (it also has a rather nifty, though utterly ridiculous, sight that provides a better than X-ray view through buildings and bodies). This weapon gives Eraser the opportunity to go one further than most movies - not only can it ignore Newton's Third Law of Motion ("For every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force"), but Einstein's Theory of Relativity too.
To get the information about when and where the arms shipment will occur, Lee and John must return to the Cyrez's building as the disc requires hardware decryption. To help them get in, Kruger pays a visit to Johnny C. (Robert Pastorelli, probably the best thing in the movie), the witness that he 'erased' at the beginning of the film. Given that Lee is a none-too welcome face at Cyrez, she must disguise herself, and this is where the film moves from brainless to insulting - we are expected to believe that no-one will recognise her if she wears aviator sunglasses and a baseball cap. This kind of transparent disguise may work fine for grand opera (witness Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte), but just doesn't cut it on film.
Perhaps due to temporary blindness in their foes, the duo is able to obtain the information they require, and set off for the showdown. The location for this climax adds to the insults. Of all the docks that could have been the loading point for the guns, the deal happens to be going down at docks run by Johnny C.'s cousin. How convenient. Needless to say, Arnie is victorious (I'm really not spoiling anything for you here - you surely didn't expect him to be anything other than victorious, did you?), and his name is cleared.
Eraser is a truly uninspiring film, with lax direction, an incredibly hackneyed script and poor performances all round. Quite where the $100 million + budget went is very difficult to work out. Still, it has a number of passable action sequences, and as such I adjudge Eraser to contain 2 out of a possible 5 goodness units.
Vanessa Williams (Lee Cullen)
James Caan (Robert Deguerin)