Eraser (1996) Review
Eraser was directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), written by Walon Green (The Wild Bunch, Sorcerer), Michael S. Chernuchin (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Tony Puryear, and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan, Sabotage), Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty, 666 Park Avenue), Robert Pastorelli (Striking Distance, Beverly Hills Cop II), James Caan (Rollerball, Misery), Gerry Becker (The Cell, Spider-Man), James Coburn (Cross of Iron, In Like Flint), and James Cromwell (Spider-Man 3, Star Trek: First Contact). It follows a Witness Protection operator as he protects a woman testifying on an illegal arms deal case from the culprits, one of whom is a mole in WITSEC.
The Plot: Eraser is caught in the midst of things. On one hand, it shows some creative and genuinely plausible covert ops tactics, but on the other hand, there’s the dual-wielding of chain guns, electromagnetic rifles, and the beating of a crocodile. It’s balanced fairly well for a while, but soon goes down a hokier path. After faking the death of and creating a new identity (called “erasing” for Johnny (Pastorelli), Kruger (Schwarzenegger) is assigned by Beller (Coburn) to erase and protect Lee (Williams) so she can testify against a company of defence contractors for illegally dealing arms, fronted by Donohue (Cromwell), but owned by Morehart (Becker) who’s partnered with Kruger’s mentor, DeGuerin (Caan).
Naturally, Donohue isn’t a fan and sends a team of mercs to find Kruger and Lee. There are a lot of last names in play, with the conspiracy reaching far, and while there’s the suggestion that those affiliated are important, they just end up being fodder and the movie allows Kruger to go all one-man-army and kill ’em all.
The Characters: Eraser has no shortage of characters to keep track of, and most of them are just names tossed around when describing the conspiracy and how deep it goes. Plenty of bad guys do plenty of nebulously bad things off-screen and definitely bad things on-screen, but between all of that; a couple of characters are worth remembering. Kruger is a joy to watch because of his seemingly limitless combat, escape, and identity-changing prowess. He still has a human element to him though. During any downtime, he has people skills that don’t relate to killing them and muses from time to time.
Initially, Lee isn’t much more than baggage, but as the movie goes along, some more details are filled in. It’s not much, but Williams makes it work. While villains are in no short supply, DeGeurin is the big bad, and a pretty good one thanks to some good one-liners and an extremely cold sense of humour. Aside from Kruger, none are particularly special, but the actors sell what the script intends.
The Action: Schwarzenegger’s action efforts have almost unanimously been over-the-top, and Eraser doesn’t fare too differently, but it doesn’t start that way. Johnny’s erasure is a great sequence, with Kruger able to employ not only his skills with guns and knives, but also displaying the tricks of his trade; from replacing bodies, removing evidence, faking photos, and more all within a few minutes.
Once the second act begins, Eraser starts to play out as a more traditional Arnold action movie, which is by no means a bad thing; however, it may have been more compelling to keep with the more grounded action. What comes after is a cavalcade of insanity, from Kruger jumping out of a plane without a parachute for most of his descent, to his fight with a crocodile, to a full assault on a loading dock. Some of the action scenes are overblown and overlong but entertaining nonetheless.
The Technics: A hundred million dollars goes a long way, and it shows here. Everything looks great, from the sets to the electromagnetic rifles, Eraser manages to simulate reality despite being miles away from it by the time it’s over. On occasion, there is some obvious CGI for ’96 standards, most notably the crocodiles that are let loose in the zoo; the contrast is especially clear when one of them tears a goon’s arm off. Russell also lets the movie run a bit ragged. The pacing is pretty decent, but the script is so packed full of superfluous characters and sometimes overlong action sequences that it can get a bit tiresome. It’s well-made, but not flawless.
As far as over-the-top action movies go, there are a lot worse than Eraser. Of course, there are better too, but this has a fairly unique main character, some all-time one-liners, and a decent villain.
Eraser is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital from Warner Brothers. You can check the film’s page on their website for more details.