Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Eraser" (1996)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vanessa Williams, James Caan
Directed by Chuck Russell
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 115 Minutes

"Eraser" is one of a handful of middling, straight-forward action pictures that the former king of box office mayhem stumbled through the decade with. Schwarzenegger plays John Kruger, an "eraser" for the US Marshalls who helps put witnesses into protective custody. Vanessa Williams is Lee Cullen, an employee of a defense contractor who discovers that her company may be selling advanced weapons on the black market. Kruger is tasked with protecting her, and must contend not only with enemies from the company, but from within the government that want to make sure Lee never testifies.

The problem with "Eraser" is that despite it's somewhat inspired premise, no use is ever made of it. Schwarzenegger's John Kruger is just a watered-down version of the super soldiers he was playing all through the 1980s, and we never really get to see him 'erase' anyone aside from the opening sequence, and a brief scene involving altering computer records. Everything here is by-the-numbers, mid-90s action picture. The plot beats are predictable, and while the action is well-staged, Chuck Russell directs with no real style.

Vanessa Williams' character is completely useless, too. She's supposed to be a witness, and her life is in danger because of what she knows. The problem here is that she doesn't actually know anything - all the information is on a computer disc she keeps in her purse. Her character could die at any point in the picture and have no real significance to the plot. So one could assume that she's just there to look pretty, but this is problematic too since aside form a sharp business number in her first scenes, Williams spends the entire movie in loose-fitting jeans and plaid shirts (plaid shirts!!).

So "Eraser" gets by really on the strength of its action sequences, which are, admittedly, well-done. It's just too bad the writers and director couldn't figure out a way to make the whole thing more unique or interesting, given what they have to work with. The visual effects hold up fairly well, since they're used sparingly. The CGI alligators (or crocs, I can never tell) are easily the worst in the film, and even those don't look overly terrible. In fact, they look better than a lot of the junk you'll see in some movies today.

In the end, "Eraser" is a fairly enjoyable diversion. But it's also definitely a missed opportunity.