Wednesday, 22 November 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Raw Deal (John Irvin, 1986)

Determined to bring down the mob that murdered his son, veteran FBI Agent Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin) enlists former agent Mark Kaminsky (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to go undercover as a hitman 'Joseph P. Brenner', infiltrate the mob and destroy it from the inside.

By itself, Raw Deal is not a good movie. It is not terrible, but it is pretty dull stuff considering whose name is above the title. However, as an example of the wrong casting, and how filmmakers can misjudge a star persona, it is fascinating.

If you ignore the Ah-nuld component, Raw Deal is a by-the-numbers narc thriller. Directed any John Irvin, a respectable British filmmaker (whose chief claim to fame is the original miniseries of Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy), Raw Deal does not look or sound like any other Arnie movie - in tone and style it feels more like a cop thriller from the seventies.

According to the trivia I could find online, the script was literally picked at random; Ah-nuld was under contract to Dino DeLaurentis (producer of the Conan movies and, uh, Red Sonja) and wanted out. And thus the star of Commando and the director of Tinker, Tailer OG were handed a script co-written by the Oscar-nominated writer of Serpicio and the writer of the buddy cop movie Running Scared (BTW, these guys' personal lives are WAY more interesting than any of their movies), and movie magic was made.

The High and Mighty podcast reviewed Raw Deal last year and the hosts compared watching the movie to watching a dog race where one of the greyhounds has been replaced with an Irish wolfhound; I would compare it to a really nice soup with a Big Mac dumped in it.

Every aspect in this movie is a respectable, down-to-earth thriller - every aspect except its hulking star, who lurches through every scene like the proverbial rhino in a china shop. The supporting cast all look like real cops and mobsters. The photography and editing are very conventional and understated. Even the film's set pieces are staged without any flair - no OTT explosions or epic shoot-outs. None of it looks like an Arnie movie.

Schwarzenegger tries his best, but the filmmakers make the mistake of treating him like another actor. They give this character so many lines of conflict, but Schwarzenegger can only play the surface of these beats - there is never a sense that the character is in over his head.

The rest of the acting is pretty good, but when juxtaposed with Arnie's familiar wooden delivery, it is the real actors who come off looking silly. To make matters worse, the script gives Schwarzenegger some overly-verbose one-liners which do not fit his accent or cadence at all. Watching him struggle to get through the romantic repartee with Kathryn Harrold is painful. 

It is worse when the script tries to give Arnie something in his wheelhouse:

"You're under arrest." 
"For what?" 
"Impersonating a human being."

But it goes beyond one liners and set pieces.

For an Arnie movie to work, he needs a character with no internal conflicts, and a clearly established  antagonist who can justify his OTT physique and presence. By contrast, watching the Austrian Oak wipe out middle-aged mobsters is no fun at all.

This movie never feels like an Arnie movie, but even with a better star, I do not think Raw Deal would be much better. It is so generic it would have taken a re-write and a completely different creative team to make it good. As is, it is just competent. 


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Predator & The Running Man

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