Is there any more satisfying sight, when the bullets are raining and the doo-doo is flying furiously and the dialogue is thudding along (with deafening lines like ”This isn’t the Red Cross; we make weapons!” and ”It’s a whole new era of world terrorism!”), than the arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boulder-armed, trapezoid-headed, tag-line-spouting Teutonic self? In Eraser, the cartoon-scaled star plays superspectacular, Austrian-accented American hero John Kruger, a U.S. marshal whose forte is protecting hopeless cases in the federal witness protection program — folks who don’t otherwise have a prayer of surviving another day, even with a new name on their Visa cards. And the guy is really good at his job.
”I vuhrk alone. You know dat,” Kruger tells his old buddy and mentor (James Caan, nicely cast), by way of explaining the secret of his success. But actually, at this point in his outsize, only-in-America career, the 48-year-old Schwarzenegger’s continued movie success comes from vuhrking a very cannily staked claim: As he demonstrated so nimbly in True Lies, impossibly macho action plus winking I-married-a-Kennedy! self-amusement has become his richest territory.
Eraser doesn’t quite have the zing of True Lies — for one thing, it’s got game-as-a-Girl-Scout Vanessa Williams rather than impish Jamie Lee Curtis in the gal role, and a large Robert Pastorelli (late of Murphy Brown) rather than large Tom Arnold in the unlikely-sidekick role. But, directed by Charles Russell (The Mask), the machinery is well oiled. And if you care about the plot, it’s sort of this: Lee (Williams), a beautiful and brave employee at a giant, naughty defense contractor that manufactures super-futuristic, laser guns, uncovers evidence of an awful, horrifying, completely unkosher deal to sell the suckers to really bad foreign guys. Because she is a good citizen, she is ready to spill the beans. But a lot of really bad American guys would rather see her dead.
By the time Kruger saves her, and, in the process, uncovers a mole and a nefarious conspiracy (with strong echoes of Mission: Impossible), an army of nasty men has been blown away. And a scriptload of Arnoldisms have been uttered. (One fave, after blasting a monstrous alligator: ”You’re luggage!”) As one comically thuggish character puts it when he first meets Kruger, ”Who’s the tree trunk?” That’s Mister Tree Trunk to you, pal; in the right soil, Schwarzenegger is solid as an oak. B