Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as an enforcer for the Federal Witness Protection Program represents something of a reversion to his most one-dimensional, totemic roles of the past. Here he is sheer force and cunning, a machine geared to accomplish his missions on his own and trust no one, a man with no past, no family, no psychology. He’s given a name, but he really doesn’t need that either.
A generic treatment of treasonous conspiracy in high places, script by newcomer Tony Puryear and vet Walon Green centers upon Schwarzenegger’s John Kruger, a government “eraser” expert at making witnesses disappear for their own safety. His new case isn’t so easy: The witness in question, Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams), has the goods on some turncoats in the defense field who plan to sell a load of top-secret super-guns — assault-style ray guns that can blow a building apart and whose scope can see through walls and people’s skin.
From the beginning, characters are introduced just to serve as cannon fodder — in particular, Cullen’s ex-b.f. and a reporter friend. After Kruger stashes Cullen safely in New York’s Chinatown (although how the Chinese landlady could have been the key informant against Japanese yakuza is one of the script’s smaller bafflements), it becomes apparent that she isn’t safe after all; well-protected witnesses in federal cases are being bumped off with suspicious frequency, indicating a mole in the system and causing a confrontation between the steadfast Kruger and his boss and mentor, Deguerin (James Caan).
Naturally enough, this showdown takes place aboard the latter’s government jet, resulting in the film’s most spectacular sequence, in which the captive Kruger manages to get the upper hand on his suddenly exposed foe, then sets an engine afire, leaps from the plane in pursuit of a parachute that’s gone out ahead of him, catches up with it and straps it on, loses that chute in a head-on collision with the plane and opens his backup just in time for a not-so-soft landing.
Somehow, the gang on the plane manages to survive as well, whereupon everyone convenes, for reasons unknown, in New York at the zoo, where Cullen is wandering around just before closing time. This time, Kruger escapes by unleashing a tank full of alligators on Deguerin’s goons. The eagerly snapping gators clearly haven’t been fed in days, and when one of them presumes to go after Kruger, he blows it away, occasioning what is bound to be the film’s most quoted line: “You’re luggage.”
By and large, Kruger’s minimal witticisms are sub-Bond, but some genuine humor does seep in between cracks in the carnage via the performance of Robert Pastorelli as one of Kruger’s former witnesses, a thug now working in a drag club who gratefully rounds up some of his former wiseguys to help Kruger thwart the shipment of 1,000 of the guns from Baltimore harbor, resulting in a numbingly violent shootout. A stinger of a coda wraps things up in audience-pleasing fashion.
Looking leaner than usual, Schwarzenegger strides through the proceedings with his customary unhesitating purposefulness, although he takes more hits than usual along the way, getting spiked through the hand, poked through the leg and shot in the shoulder. Williams is similarly all business as the besieged young patriot willing to go the limit to expose government evildoers, while Caan schemes and threatens with evident glee.
The advanced weaponry and nifty scopes notwithstanding, most of the gunplay is pretty standard-issue, with most of the victims being anonymous targets present just to be picked off. As in “The Rock,” the effect of most of the blood is muted by dark lighting and color schemes seemingly designed to hide it. Special effects are mostly solid without being awe-inspiring or gargantuan.
Compared with high-powered action specialists like James Cameron, director Charles Russell seems content to accomplish just one thing per shot, getting the essentials on the screen but creating no special dynamic or look. Adam Greenberg’s lensing is cool and elegant, while Alan Silvestri’s score hammers away in conventional fashion.