Film: Mission: frankly unoriginal

The Critics

"Girly Men" was, as memory serves, the serenely contemptuous epithet coined by Arnold Schwarzenegger for left- leaning members of the Democratic Party in the United States. Oddly enough, however, Arnie has been tending ever more conspicuously towards the girly side himself in recent years: playing the caring family man (True Lies), the soft-centred comic butt (Kindergarten Cop) and even, in Junior, letting himself get knocked up. Well, forget all that touchy-feely range-broadening nonsense. In Eraser (18), the testosterone has kicked back in with a vengeance. If you've been pining for an Arnie who will stomp, stab, shoot, gouge, maim, garrotte and biff without letting the slightest tinge of emotion restructure his facial granite, this could be the flick for you.

Indeed, our man has reverted so much to Terminator-era killer-machine type that even his accent, which had been shaping up into very plausible first-generation American, seems to have slid dramatically back down the career ladder to his old roots in Graz. "All you hef to do is bull the drigger," he booms to a young lady when instructing her in the use of firearms; later, when he anxiously enquires, "Are you het?" he's not asking about sexual preferences but whether she has just taken a bullet.

And while the part he plays in Eraser - a dangerous loner marshal in the federal witness protection programme - is nominally human rather than cyborg, it's hard to register the difference. (He's supposedly called an "eraser" because his job involves wiping out all trace of a witness's previous identity before relocating them, but this should fool no one, particularly as the film often uses "erased" in the same brutally jocular way his best star vehicle used the word "terminated".) Any other movie in which the hero suffered a nail through the hand, a spike through the thigh and a slug in the shoulder might well smack of the sado-masochistic, but Arnie's hypertrophied frame is so far removed from mere human biology that the sight of such damage is about as kinky or disturbing as a demolition derby.

The film is, by the way, rubbish. More importantly, it's lazy, formulaic rubbish, and suffers from the bad timing of being strikingly similar to Mission: Impossible, right down to the set-piece sequence of a raid on a supposedly impenetrable computer HQ, staged by the director Charles Russell (The Mask, etc) without a fraction of De Palma's elan. Its McGuffin is a supergun with X-ray sights that can see through buildings and into viscera, able to fire aluminium shells at, quote, "almost the speed of light". (Anyone setting up a Campaign for Real Physics in Movies?) In practical terms, this seems to mean that they leave a white spiral trail in the air behind them and can hurl human targets backwards for yards: picturesque enough but a trifle overdone.

A sneaky arms company is planning to put this gadget on the market for terrorists, but a bold computer operator (the popular singer Vanessa Williams, whose remarkable lower facial development rivals Emmanuelle Beart's) has rumbled the scheme and informed the FBI. Arnie has the job of protecting her against the baddies, a more complicated task than usual since we find out - again as in Mission: Impossible, but a lot sooner - that his own department is full of rotten apples, none more over-ripe than his sometime mentor James Caan (one of his least charismatic performances).

Detailing the scrapes into which this assignment leads our hero would be even more wearisome than watching them, although the bits you are meant to walk out of the cinema raving about involve Arnie throwing himself out of a jet without a parachute and Arnie tangling with an alligator. This latter tussle produces his best line: "You're luggage," he grunts, dispatching the beast to reptile heaven. Yes, that's the best line. The most disappointing thing about Eraser is that there isn't a single Arnie zinger to go around muttering under your breath for the next two months. He should either hire a new gag-writer or think about having himself fitted for a new frock.

Set in a small campus town in Iowa, The Last Supper (15) is a smart, cruel little joke about a household of fairly insufferable bien-pensant graduate students - girly men and a couple of girly women - who decide to stop yakking about making the world a better place and do something concrete for a change: viz invite local bigots and reactionaries to Sunday dinner and, if they prove sufficiently obnoxious, poison them and bury them in the back yard under the tomatoes. Arsenic and old cant, so to speak.

Having tasted blood, they want more, and the killings become increasingly gratuitous as the tomatoes wax plumper. (The killers also start to crack up as their appetites grow stranger, rather like the students in Donna Tartt's novel The Secret History.) This first feature by Stacy Title doesn't have all the sting it might - we're held too distant from it by the sketchy, irritating characterisations - but it's an enjoyably tart mixture of traditional yarning and modern attitudinising, with a small gallery of juicy cameos, of which the most satisfying is Bill Paxton's. He plays a tightly wrapped former serviceman whose chance arrival at the house one night precipitates the chain of murders. This man's view of the world is almost satanically evil, but he has enough nasty, raw perception to lure you into sharing his contempt for his hosts: what a rattling film it might have been if he'd only stayed around for a while.

There are so many fresh and delightful and, really, almost poetic touches in Mira Nair's romantic comedy The Perez Family (15) that it feels mean- spirited to complain that it all goes on a bit and can be hopelessly corny. But it does, and it can. The unpromising occasion for its plot is Castro's forcible prison expulsions of 1980 - the same "toilet flushing" depicted in De Palma's Scarface. Finally liberated from years of torture and despair, Juan Paul Perez (Alfred Molina) arrives in Florida in the hope of reunion with the wife he has not seen for 20 years (Anjelica Huston; you'll notice how echt Cuban the casting is). But life and officialdom tangle him up, and he falls into a quasi-marriage in the refugee camp with a jolly nice former prostitute (Marisa Tomei, who really acts very nicely when she manages to stop swivelling her hips).

Objectively this is quite a harsh story, but Nair gives it such an incongruously sunny, good-natured mood that its few moments of grit come as a relief. Molina, for example, looks so powerfully Christ-like in his beard and tattered prison fatigues as the film opens - oddly similar, given the film's attitude to Castro's goon squads, to that iconic photograph of the dead Che Guevara which John Berger once compared to a Mantegna - that when he is spruced-up into a presentable romantic lead a lot of the pressure goes out of his character. And Nair's eye for quietly magical sights - a child pegged up to dry on a line, a sassy street kid suddenly turned meek and attired in a surplice - doesn't seem to be matched by her ear. How else could a line such as Tomei's barbaric yawp "I am like Kooba - used by many, conquered by none" have survived in the final edit?

Original Gangstas (18), a slight return to the glory days of the Blaxploitation picture, opens fairly bracingly, with a rapid mini-lecture on the economic decline of Gary, Indiana, after US Steel laid off 70 per cent of its work- force, leaving them few alternatives between destitution and crime; modulates into an unusually old-fashioned moral tale about how the more mature locals, led by a bunch of thick- waisted guys (veteran Blaxploitation stars including Mr John Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree) who used to be gang members in the Seventies, fight back against the adolescent psychopaths who now hold its streets; and dissolves into an endless tedium of amateurish acting and shoddily staged action. Larry Cohen directs as though his long CV had been mysteriously erased.

Have your children been unbearable recently? Take them to see The Secret Agent's Club (PG), a Hulk Hogan vehicle about spies and things (actually the plot is quite similar to Eraser). Co-starring a bunch of 12-year olds, it has all the sly wit and professional competence of a film made by seven- year-olds. If they persist in their naughtiness, make them watch it again. The courts can't do anything.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 14.

ARTS IN TODAY'S SUNDAY REVIEW

BACKSTAGE WITH WOODY ALLEN

It's not easy working with a comic genius, as director Michael Blakemore reveals in his hilariously candid production diary

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick