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.

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.

Eraser

(Action thriller -- Color)

Production

A Warner Bros. release of an Arnold Kopelson production. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson. Executive producers, Michael Tadross, Charles Russell. Co-producers, Stephen Brown, Caroline Pham. Directed by Charles Russell. Screenplay, Tony Puryear, Walon Green, story by Puryear, Green, Michael S. Chernuchin.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor; Panavision widescreen), Adam Greenberg; editor, Michael Tronick; music, Alan Silvestri; production design, Bill Kenney; art direction, Bill Skinner; set decoration, Garrett Lewis; costume design, Richard Bruno; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS) , Robert Eber; visual effects supervisor, John E. Sullivan; special visual effects, Warner Digital Studios; special visual effects/animation, Industrial Light & Magic; airplane sequence visual effects, Mass Illusion; stunt coordinator, Joel Kramer; associate producer/assistant director, Frank Capra III; second unit director, Terry Leonard; second unit camera, Mike Benson, Tom Priestley; casting, Bonnie Timmermann. Reviewed at Chinese Theater, L.A., June 11, 1996. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 115 min.

With

(Eraser) John Kruger ... Arnold Schwarzenegger Robert Deguerin ... James Caan Lee Cullen ... Vanessa Williams Beller ... James Coburn Johnny C ... Robert Pastorelli Donahue ... James Cromwell Monroe ... Danny Nucci Harper ... Andy Romano Calderon ... Nick Chinlund Morehart ... Gerry Becker J. Scar ... Mark Rolston Corman ... John Slattery Frediano ... Robert Miranda Schiff ... Michael Papajohn Tony ... Joe Viterelli Claire ... Roma Maffia Little Mike ... Tony Longo Sal ... John Snyder Sergei ... Olek Krupa Darleen ... Melora Walters Darryl ... Cylk Cozart Dutton ... K. Todd Freeman 'Eraser" is mid-level Arnold, a hardware-heavy, high-body-count actioner that tries to compensate for a B-movie script with advanced artillery and high-tech mayhem. Loaded with plot loopholes, implausibilities and some phony deadlines imposed just to crank up contrived suspense, pic is punctuated with enough shootings, explosions, body puncturing, death-defying leaps, dramatic table-turning and man-eating alligators to fill out all 15 episodes of an old Republic serial. Action here isn't the most spectacular onscreen this summer, but it's sufficient to make this a potent, if not stellar, B.O. attraction for a time. Foreign results could easily surpass domestic returns.

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