Eraser (1996): Chuck Russell
Arnold Schwarzenegger is often the most dangerous weapon in his movies, be it his muscles, his punches, or his wit, this time isn’t so. Chalk that up to the advanced rail guns that can lock onto your heart beat and put a light speed aluminum rod through it.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Witness Protection agent extraordinaire John Kruger protects a whistle blower blowing a whistle on a treasonous weapons deal involving the most dangerous rifles in the world.
United States Marshal John Kruger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is America’s best hope for its most desperate and noble. Eraser opens on a mob torture scene somewhere in America’s northeast. A man is about to have his tongue pulled out and a woman is being covered in gasoline. It’s a bad scene.
Until, without warning, a hooded figure bursts in to strike. With a roundhouse kick to the face, this figure puts a bad guy’s head in the freezer and smashes the door shut on it, breaking his neck. Pretty soon he’s killed the other guys in the living room and is pouring fake blood on the two people being tortured.
It’s John Kruger. In a few short minutes he drags two body bags from a shitty station wagon, has the living clothe the dead, sets fire to the house, and calls the police to tell them there’s been a murder. The entire episode lasts fewer than five minutes, and just like that Johnny Casteleone (Robert Pastorelli) and his wife have new leases on life.
Another of more than 14,000 witnesses to the crimes of America’s great villains protected, Kruger returns to the office of Wit Sec, Witness Security. He changes dental records and closes the case.
Soon Kruger meets with his boss, who tasks him with protecting a “bonafide honest person” named Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams). Cullen works at Cyrez, one of the nation’s largest arms manufacturers and a big time government contractor. Cyrez might be involved in some shady shit, and Cullen is the whistle blower. Problem is, the shady people work very high in the government, the United States government. Like I said–big time.
Cullen, on an evidence-gathering mission, quickly gets into trouble, and it’s time for Kruger to save her life. Throughout Eraser we see Kruger do anything to protect his charge. For Kruger, it’s all about the witness. He meets several people who Kruger helped before, now with new lives, eager to give back. Johnny is practically violent about helping Kruger later in the movie.
Even Kruger’s enemies identify him as the best in the business. Kruger knows it, too, because he always works alone. A partner would only slow him down. Kruger shows what he will do for Cullen the night after the feds cut her loose. Kruger knows two agents are staked outside Cullen’s house. He also knows that they won’t be enough to stop the men eager to kill her.
The bad guys kill the agents quickly and are moving on Cullen’s house, until Kruger parks a van and delivers a batch of balloons. He enters the house moments before Cullen is nearly erased from life. Armed with only a shotgun, Kruger moves Cullen through the house as puffs of smoke are streaking through it.
Puffs of smoke? Cullen’s company Cyrez has designed an electromagnetic pulse rifle that fires aluminum rods at nearly the speed of light. Also called rail guns, the smallest currently in use, Kruger explains, is attached to a battleship. I’ll call them eraser guns, not only for their power, but also for their X-ray scopes that penetrate walls and lock onto beating hearts. Cyrez has designed the weapons, but they aren’t supposed to exist yet. Well, they exist all right, and they are tearing apart Cullen’s colonial.
Kruger drags Cullen into the kitchen. For cover he knocks down the refrigerator. This fridge blocks the X-ray scope on the eraser guns, though Kruger surely did not know that. Whatever, the tactic works. The goons outside can’t see them. Another bad guy tries a new trick. He brought a dirtier weapon. He fires a pod the size of a pineapple into the kitchen. This pod lands on the floor launches its top two-thirds.
Kruger knows what this weapon is, and he opens the fridge door to act as a further shield. The pod detonates, ejecting dozens of nails in all directions. One nail penetrates Kruger’s hand, but he doesn’t cry out.
Eventually they escape and Kruger tells Cullen his mission. “You’re alive,” he says, “and I will keep you that way.” Kruger drags Cullen across the northeast because he distrusts his agency. He knows there’s a mole inside. When not investigating Cyrez and Wit Sec, he’s taking care of Cullen.
Kruger orders Cullen to burn all her identification cards. She laments that everything about her is melting in the fire. Kruger won’t have it. “What you are is in here,” he says, pointing to his heart. Wise sage.
Kruger assigns Cullen a new identity and stashes her in a safe house in New York’s Chinatown with a woman who he once help to testify against the Yakuza. If things go south, Cullen should head from there to the zoo, which has several exits.
Things go south, of course, and Kruger again rises to the occasion. He falls out of a plane, rents a tow truck, and shoots an alligator to protect his witness. Eraser is basically The Bodyguard 2.
Of course Kruger has all the best lines. When he learns that the memory disk Cullen stole from Cyrez can only be accessed at Cyrez and that all the bad guys will be waiting for them there, he says, “I’d hate to disappoint them.” Because he’s soo badass, Kruger has his own guitar riff in the soundtrack. He rocks a trench coat and t-shirt look, and, perhaps scariest for a massive hetero like most federal agents likely profess to be, he walks into a gay night club and is not uncomfortable to be there.
US Marshal Robert DeGuerin (James Caan) was once Kruger’s mentor, and he was the best. Taught Kruger everything he knows. Except villainy.
DeGuerin wastes little time revealing himself as Eraser‘s villain. He oversees a team of marshals eager to kill Cullen, because they are in on the Cyrez illegal weapons deal. DeGuerin, it seems, has recruited half the government and all of his agents but the boss to work for his scheme.
What is the scheme? A Russian gangster has bought 1,000 eraser guns for $52 million. That’s $52,000 per rifle, a staggering sum. But for the most advance rifle in history, a gun that shouldn’t yet exist? Seems worth it. How can you put a price on freedom?
It’s unclear how DeGuerin got involved. The Undersecretary of Defense (Andy Romano) appears to be the highest ranking official involved. He calls people and berates them about killing Cullen and such. The deal was going down long before Cullen becomes a key witness and stole documents. But there is DeGuerin, apparently the #2 in the deal.
DeGuerin, like Kruger, will do anything to achieve his goal. He kills protected witnesses to convince Kruger to ferret out Cullen. We watch as DeGuerin shoots his own witness and suffocates her under the guise of giving her CPR. DeGuerin hopes Kruger will rat out Cullen, but he’s too smart. DeGuerin learns her location anyway.
Discretion is not a part of DeGuerin’s training. This guy tries to get a plane to fly into a parachuting Kruger. Later, when Kruger drives into the zoo, DeGuerin and four other agents surround the truck and empty machine gun clips into it. He’s the kind of guy who would swat a fly with a piano.
Pretty much any chance Eraser has to toss in an action scene or sequence is seized and wrought with countless bullets. In the opening, Kruger kicks a guy into a glass table and then sets the house on fire. Later, Kruger saves Cullen’s life by setting her house on fire. Does Kruger have a problem? Perhaps.
Cullen’s boss, an apoplectic James Cromwell, shoots himself in the mouth. Cullen shoots a bad agent in the leg. DeGuerin shoots friends and foes alike. Kruger shoots an alligator and an airplane. It’s as if the screenwriters cooked up the weirdest things people could shoot, and it works, dammit!
The “bonafide honest person” mentioned before is Lee Cullen. We first meet Cullen on the day she’s to steal data from her employer. She’s wired up and talking to the feds. Cullen heads to a secure vault, the only place in the joint where she can make copies of the files the feds need to nail Cyrez. Cullen has the bright idea to make two copies, and this second copy saves her life.
Cullen endures much throughout Eraser. She watches her on-again/off-again boyfriend shot to death by the most advanced weapon on Earth. She learns that speaking to her best friend, a journalist, gets the woman killed. She erases her identity and assumes a new name. Oh, and she’s almost killed numerous times. All in the span of a day.
That’s plenty to endure, but Cullen never loses her resolve. She at first refuses to enter Witness Protection. She shoots a federal marshal in the leg. She smacks a coffee pot into the face of Russia’s most dangerous gangster. You won’t see Cullen shed a tear or beg for mercy. She’s with Kruger every step of the way. I bet she attended a service academy before joining Cyrez. As soon as she finds discrepancies with the company’s accounting, she goes to the feds. Girl Scout all the way. I liked her.
DeGuerin’s cronies are all federal agents, mostly marshals. These guys appear eager to follow their friend and boss into criminality, and for the price of what? Surely they won’t get much of the $52 million sale price. What’s in it for them? Their motives are unclear, and that’s what makes them fodder for Kruger to punch and kill.
The big mid-movie set piece occurs on a plane flying above New York. It comes after DeGuerin has revealed himself as the chief villain. He’s drugged Kruger through a water bottle and killed the lone new guy with Kruger’s gun to make him the patsy.
Big mistake. You don’t frame John Kruger, the best damn Wit Sec agent America’s got, damn it. Kruger wakes up long enough to hear DeGuerin’s explanation for turning on the nation. “Wars, they come and go,” he says. Some guys get dead, and some guys get rich. “I prefer to get rich,” he basically says.
Kruger responds the only way he can. “If you drop your gun now,” he says, “I promise I won’t kill you.” DeGuerin, of course, does not drop his gun. Kruger whips out his belt buckle knife and flings it at DeGuerin, his former mentor. DeGuerin blocks the knife with his arm, by that I mean it punctures his arm, not his face. Kruger uses the moment to punch out the smarmy dirt bag holding a gun on him. He then leaps to an emergency door and unlatches it.
Now the plane is rocking, and this party is, too. Kruger takes cover by the door and trades shots with enemies on his left and right. He knows his best hope is outside the plane. DeGuerin knows it, too, and he also knows that Kruger will turn himself to aerosol spray if he jumps. He’ll hit the engine.
Kruger rips a seat from the wall and throws it out the plane. Clearly, that was the moment for DeGuerin to strike, but he did not. The seat blows through the engine, turning into a fire ball. There’s a parachute nearby, which Kruger grabs, taking intermittent shots.
Soon Kruger is outside the plane, and his parachute is falling from it. Kruger can’t go back on the plane, because that is death, and he can’t let go, because that’s death. Well, he decides to let go and let God. Protecting his face with his arms, Kruger falls toward the fiery engine, falling just beneath it through black smoke.
That problem conquered, he must find and retrieve his parachute. He does, and pulls the chute without much trouble. (The stunt actor’s face is clearly not Arnold’s in these scenes.) Problem is, DeGuerin is still alive, and the plane, while damaged, can still fly. DeGuerin orders the plane turned toward Kruger. “I want his face on that windshield,” he says to the pilot.
Kruger draws a pistol I’m not sure he had, and he shoots out the windshield to force the pilot to pull up. Good deal, except it gets the chute and Kruger all tangled and falling fast. Kruger untwists the chute in time to pull the backup chute and smash onto a car roof, crushing it and the car beneath it.
Any time you have someone falling though the air, that’s a major stunt. Kruger doesn’t fight anyone in the air, which seems lame, but he does practically shoot down a jet liner. Score another improbable win for Arnold.
Kruger shows some kung fu skills in the opening sequence, round house and sweeping two baddies. He never shows these skills again. Strange.
Kruger finds himself in a warehouse on the Baltimore docks late one night, tracking the weapons deal of the century. He’s carrying a shotgun and hoping not to be melted by a futuristic rifle.
Once the three bad guys sporting the eraser guns spot him, they slice up the warehouse with criss-crossing pulses. Fires erupt all over the place. Kruger runs for his life until he crashes through the floor.
The bad guys are confident they killed Kruger, the dumbest mistake many bad guys make in Arnold movies. What they have done is put a large piece of shrapnel into Kruger’s leg, which he struggles to remove. Two baddies with traditional guns patrol the warehouse.
Kruger’s shotgun is fried, which turns out fine, because he tosses it out. A bad guy picks it up and is targeted by the third guy sniping with an eraser gun. This guy mistakes his compatriot for Kruger and lights him up, sending his body 30 feet backward with one pulse.
Kruger, meanwhile, removes the shrapnel just in time to stab it into the other patrolman. He takes two pistols. Now enter the other two guys with eraser guns. Kruger seems unclear about the power of these guns, only that they are ten times as lethal and that he best avoid the green lights that indicate the X-ray scopes. He shuffles toward his enemies in the crawlspace. When he knows he’s below them, he goes John McClane and unloads the pistol clips into their feet and bursts through the floor.
Now, yes, now is the time for Kruger to pick up two eraser guns. Waste not want not. Kruger fires four pulses into each of the pair of bad guys now in the warehouse. Taking a radio, he tells DeGuerin outside, “They missed.” DeGuerin orders all the other men to open fire.
They tear that building apart, but if light speed aluminum rods can’t stop Kruger, what can bullets do? Nothing. Kruger walks through the fire with both eraser guns blazing. He kills a surveillance van along several bad guys. Hell yeah.
Meanwhile, what else is going on? Cullen is tied to a chair on the container ship. She’s worked the chair arm apart, fast enough to free herself. She grabs a nearby coffee pot and smashes it into the face of the Russian who is buying 1,000 eraser guns. Cullen kicks him in the face and runs away.
Johnny and his Italian brethren are skulking about the docks. The guy who is literally a fat Tony is mad because some Red Commies are on his docks without his knowledge. They stake out one of the eraser snipe points, and their own sniper shoots him through the scope into his eye. That was cool.
With most of the backup dead, DeGuerin is left only with Cullen. Somehow he captures her at gun point and has her atop the last shipping container before it’s loaded onto the ship. Kruger spots him, and DeGuerin orders Kruger to lower the eraser guns. Kruger, being respectable, does so. DeGuerin, being not respectable, shoots Kruger in the shoulder.
Kruger shows tremendous strength as he runs toward the now-moving container, leaps onto it, with one arm, and climbs to the top. Kruger disarms DeGuerin with a punch to the face, and they fight over the single gun sliding around the container, which is a precarious perch just now, teetering like a carnival ride without safety restraints.
Kruger is in pain, enough for DeGuerin to kick him and knee his face, and then find a crowbar to beat mercilessly into his former mentee. Too many dollars at stake for old allegiances to get in the way.
Cullen is the liability here. The container takes a dangerous swing and she slides off. Kruger, always thinking witness first, slides to the edge and clutches her while DeGuerin recovers from a few Kruger blows.
Kruger has an idea. He lifts Cullen, his arm still bullet-wounded, and gets her to climb a ladder. Kruger take the crowbar and uses it to snap the chain on the pulley, separating the container from crane harness.
The container crashes to the ground and the guns pour out. Wit Sec choppers are finally on the scene. Kruger stumbles toward DeGuerin, who is crushed beneath the container door. DeGuerin begs for help, which Kruger provides, only to be nearly shot in the face by DeGuerin’s gun that he whipped out like a striking cobra.
The Wit Sec boss faces Kruger, still weighing the evidence and the words of his two best agents, one against the other. “Thank you, John,” he says, vindicating the hero.
We skip now to the steps of the Capitol. The key players have emerged from a Congressional hearing. A trial will follow later, during which the treacherous undersecretary hopes to be cleared of treason charges.
Kruger and Cullen are there, of course. They enter a nondescript van parked on the street. The van immediately explodes. DeGuerin and the undersecretary enter a limo, with no respect or fear for having watched their nemeses die in an explosion.
DeGuerin is feeling very cocky. He claims that Cullen’s family and friends, anyone who might know about Cyrez’s treachery will die. “I’ll kill ’em one by one,” he says.
Suddenly the limo stops and the doors lock. We see Johnny step out of the driver’s door and walk briskly away from the train crossing. The guys in the limo are scared now. DeGuerin gets a call on the limo’s phone. It’s Kruger. He faked his death. He tells DeGuerin, “You’ve just been erased.” An oncoming train explodes the limo. Justice is served.
Eraser is at least a dozen years into the Arnold one-liner experiment, and we get some doozies here. None better than after the zoo fight, in which alligators tear apart several bad guys. One feisty gator comes at Kruger and tries to eat him. Kruger spends his last bullet shooting into its mouth. “You’re luggage,” he says. I mean, that’s rude. That gator just wanted to eat. Also, Kruger destroyed its home. Kruger gets the kids involved after he crash lands in a junkyard. He asks two kids, “Where is this?” The girl answers, “Earth, welcome.”
These are funny lines, but Kruger is outshone by the Italian gentlemen of distinction running the local longshoremen union at a Baltimore pier. Johnny’s cousin runs the docks, of course. He visits them. One guy tells Johnny that his funeral was beautiful. Johnny’s cousin is literally a fat Italian mobster named Tony. I can’t believe this character was a coincidence. The Simpsons had already featured Fat Tony in several episodes.
These Italians are awesome. They treat the weapons deal of the century as night’s outing. They are upset that the local union was not informed of an outgoing shipment. They surprise the Russians by hiding in a dozer scoop, popping out to shoot a handful of them. If they had informed the dock owner, they might have lived.
The only obvious location in Eraser is the New York City Zoo. Thing is, there is no such animal. Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo, sure, but no “New York City Zoo.” What’s the deal?
The characters do visit a zoo, especially a reptile house that becomes very important. Cullen, alone, flees into the reptile house to escape the bad federal marshals. She finds cover and shoots at the bad guys, who are interested in taking her alive.
Cullen runs out of bullets moments before Kruger enters through the back door, blasting away with his patented dive-and-shoot. He kills a guy but only has two bullets remaining to kill four guys. What to do?
Enter Alligator mississippiensis, better known as the American alligator. Kruger waits for the villains to encroach on their hiding spot, and then he strikes, shooting one of his remaining two bullets into the glass housing the massive reptiles.
The water washes out the bad guys as the gators slide out. They are MAD. One guy is bitten and has his arm ripped off by another gator. Two more guys are chomped as Kruger and Cullen struggle to escape on the wet floor. One gator snaps at a floundering Kruger, until he remembers he has one more bullet, blasting the gator in the mouth. I did not care for Kruger killing the animal. It had every right to be pissed; he shot up its home!
With countless agents involved in the illegal arms deal, Eraser insinuates that corruption is widespread, at least in the Justice Department. Is Trump the president or something?
Eraser, shockingly, passes the Bechdel Test. Cullen speaks to her friend the reporter about the disk. This is the only woman-to-woman conversation, and these are the only two women with speaking roles in the movie. Shows you how low a bar the Bechdel Test is.
- (1) Bonus for using giant, ferocious gators.
- (3) Automatic Arnold bonus
- I could have done with Arnold wasting the entire Russian unit, though that might have been against character.
Summary (33/68): 49%
Eraser is about as average as action movies get, even Arnold movies. Solid work all around, and solid set pieces. Solid review. Good job, me.