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All in a Day’s Work for an Action Hero

TIMES FILM CRITIC

Arnold Schwarzenegger tries his hardest to look formidable, forbidding and stern in “Eraser,” but what he mostly looks is tired.

And who wouldn’t be weary, given the stressful life and death situations U.S. Marshal John Kruger has to contend with. Things like hanging onto airplanes with his bare hands, fending off alligators and facing down Russian gangsters. Sometimes, just to show he’s human, Kruger throws a chair at the bad guys. It works.

And don’t forget the pressures the real-life Schwarzenegger has to deal with, the demands of being a huge international media celebrity and having a mega-budget film--the estimates this time run from $80 million all the way to $130 million--built around just you. Is it any wonder that the poor man’s Austrian accent seems to be getting thicker? Wouldn’t yours?

Or maybe Schwarzenegger lost sleep puzzling over the question that is going to keep concerned moviegoers up nights: Where the heck did all that money go?

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Aside from his own salary, it probably didn’t go to the cast. Vanessa Williams, who does a respectable job as the female lead, is still establishing herself as a movie star, and both James Caan and James Coburn, who tag along as Arnold’s associates, are not exactly the hottest faces in town.

And the money clearly didn’t go into the script, credited to Tony Puryear and Walon Green from a story by Puryear, Green & Michael S. Chernuchin. Or if it did, it certainly wasn’t money prudently spent.

Plot-wise, there’s no twist in the story of Kruger having to protect key witness Lee Cullen (Williams) from the forces of evil that hasn’t been done more memorably elsewhere.

And while there are three or four good quips in the picture, some of the lines that got the biggest laughs from a recruited audience were unintentional, such as Kruger plaintively pointing to the heart and telling Cullen, fearful of having to change her identity, “What you are is in here. Nobody can take that away from you.” Words to live by.

Kruger, it should be emphasized is not just any U.S. marshal, he is a stalwart of the Federal Witness Protection Plan, an expert at making people’s identities disappear (hence the film’s title) and creating new ones on the spot.

Cullen, it turns out, may be the first “real-live bona fide honest person” Kruger has ever protected. An employee of a major defense contractor, Cullen knows things about bribery and corruption that could create “the hottest scandal since Iran-Contra.” Which is a little like saying “Eraser” is the most exciting movie since “Cutthroat Island.”

Protecting Cullen turns out to be especially difficult because, can you believe it, the bad guys have allies at the highest levels of our government. Kruger is forced to retaliate by employing a group of stock company Mafioso that wouldn’t look out of place in a comic opera by Rossini.

“Eraser” does have a few big-ticket stunts that hold the attention, but director Charles Russell, fresh from “The Mask,” isn’t able to infuse them with the intensity and believability that James Cameron brought to comparable sequences in “True Lies.”

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So where did the money go? Maybe into the supersecret new weapon that all the bad guys covet. It’s the EM-1, familiarly known as “the rail gun,” a massive piece of hardware that sees through walls and “fires aluminum rounds at almost the speed of light.” When you go up against Arnold, ordinary bullets are no longer enough. Perhaps that’s the reason the big guy looks so tired.

* MPAA rating: R, for violent action throughout and some language. Times guidelines: a high body count and lots of cartoon violence, including the slapping around of women.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

‘Eraser’

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Arnold Schwarzenegger: John Kruger

James Caan : Robert Deguerin

Vanessa Williams: Lee Cullen

James Coburn: Beller

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Robert Pastorelli: Johnny C

An Arnold Kopelson production, released by Warner Bros. Director Charles Russell. Producers Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson. Executive producers Michael Tadross, Charles Russell. Screenplay by Tony Puryear and Walon Green, story by Tony Puryear and Walon Green & Michael S. Chernuchin. Editor Michael Tronick. Costumes Richard Bruno. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Bill Kenney. Art director Bill Skinner. Set decorator Garrett Lewis. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.


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