In Commando, Schwarzenegger plays ex-special forces operative, single dad and all round crazy bastard Colonel John Matrix. In reality, ex-special forces personnel are usually those daddish men with handle-bar taches who linger behind Politicians, not Austrian body builders ‘roided to within an inch of their lives.
Matrix has retired to a retreat in the Californian mountains with his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano – I heard she’s done some soft porn flicks, but not at that age, later on in her career!). Still in my book there's only one reason why dads hole themselves up in the wilderness with their little girls and it results in pink-eyed babies. My suspicions were further aroused during the opening credits when Matrix clearly places the palm of his hand on his daughter’s swim-suited backside when there were more appropriate options. Other evidence includes Matrix’s daughter acting like his wife, Matrix’s random interest in Boy George and the fact that he is extremely keen to usher his daughter back to their cabin at the end of the film. When not half-naked in the pool together they spend their time making 'mysterious' sandwiches, feeding deer and eating ice cream (though I personally would have cut her head off for that ice cream stunt).
While all of this indulgence is taking place up in the mountains, someone is systematically killing members of Matrix’s old unit. This prompts a visit from his old commanding officer Major General Franklin Kirby (James Olson as a Troutman knock-off) who has come to warn Matrix and provide him with some security. Unfortunately this reveals Matrix’s hideout to the bad guys and his daughter is kidnapped. From there the action takes off as the deposed South American Dictator Arius (Dan Hedaya) blackmails Matrix into assassinating the new President of Val Verde, which will allow Guerillas loyal to Arius to perform a coup d’état. Arius is also aided by a group of ruthless Mercenaries consisting of Sully (flecked jacket) Cooke (bald and black) and Bennett (Freddie Mercury meets Streets of Rage) who walks about in public places wearing chain-mail and fingerless gloves (well I 'spose it was '85). Bennett (Vernon Wells) is motivated by revenge after Matrix had him thrown out of his old unit and he makes quite an amusing baddie; being one of the only villains to offer a retort to Schwarzenegger’s infamous ‘I’ll be back’ (Not as sharp as Killian’s though).
What then follows is a frantic race against time as Matrix attempts to escape from his captors, save his daughter and foil the coup. Tootling along to James Horner’s jingly score, he enlists the help of pretty air stewardess Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) who is inadvertently drawn into the conspiracy after Matrix steals her car. Along the way there are some great fight sequences as, one by one, Matrix dispatches the Mercenaries, each time unravelling the thread that will lead him to his daughter. I love Matrix’s Motel fight with Cooke (Bill Duke) which sees the pair of them fall into the next room where a young couple are having sex, almost as if the makers thought, ‘Ahhhh go on, lets give ‘em some tit!’.
So slick are some of Matrix’s moves that they found their way onto my school playground where they were known as ‘doing a Matrix’. And I must confess that when I was using public transport the other day I had some miserable old bastard next to me and I just wanted to do the old elbow and neck-break that Matrix performs to Henriques on the plane. Unfortunately I am a pussy and Commando is one of the most unrealistic films ever made so there would have been nothing ‘silent and smooth’ about my elbow; I would have spent the next ten minutes rolling about on the floor with the guy in a head lock while someone called British Transport Police.
Before Matrix assaults the island base where his daughter is being held, he breaks into a gun shop and loads up on weapons in what can only be described as my (and probably Michael Ryan’s?) ultimate wet dream. We then see John Matrix versus a whole South American Army Regiment in a protracted battle which plays out like a video game. At first you wonder what ingenious cloak and dagger methods the outnumbered Matrix is going use to defeat the army, until the place erupts into squib city with a bunch of soldiers that can’t seem to nail the lumbering hulk that is Aaaaarnold. One of the highlights sees Matrix stripped to his tits (and those are TITS!) in a small potting shed surrounded by the hapless Guerillas, another sees Matrix duke it out with Freddie Mercury in an old school knife fight (on a par with the one at the end of Under Siege) and you’ve got to love some of those strategically placed weapons that really have no justification for being there (electro-shocker, furnace, piping etc).
So okay, this was a First Blood/Rambo clone designed to compete directly with Stallone at the box-office, but John Rambo - John Matrix who cares! We just want BLOOD! And we get it with Commando, particularly since Matrix doesn’t have Rambo’s emotional baggage or isn’t concerned with tying anyone up or wounding. I remember thinking, ‘Shit, he just killed Sully in absolute cold blood!’. And it's also in Commando that we are introduced to Schwarzenegger’s offbeat humour.
By the end of the film Matrix’s daughter is all over him even though she has just witnessed her dad impale another human being. Another curiosity is what kind of name is John Matrix? I didn't know Matrix was a surname. What ethnicity is that? If it’s a secret alias because of his special forces work, wouldn't he choose something more low key than John Matrix?
And finally if Matrix ‘eats Green Berets for breakfast’ what military unit does he belong to? Delta, SEALs, what? Please comment if you know, since I ejaculate over ‘that macho bullshit!’.
Prolific American director/producer who specialises in crowd-pleasing B-movies, usually action or horror. Earlier films include more serious works like the award-winning documentary Twilight of the Mayas and Steel Arena, plus 1976's hilarious exploiter Truck Stop Women, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw and Roller Boogie, with Linda Blair.