Raw Deal

January 11, 2011

Living proof that a sense of humor can help you overcome any obstacles, Arnold Schwarzenegger rolls out his latest slugfest, Raw Deal, with tongue (as usual) in cheek.

Sure, Arnold also carries around those suitcases full of rippling muscles. I suppose that’s a large part of his popularity. As one teen-age girl had it after the sneak preview, “That was nothing great. But Arnold was awesome.”

Still, lots of musclemen have tried movies; most fade fast. Schwarzenegger’s feeling for the absurd and his penchant for one-liners have kept his last couple of action flicks, The Terminator and Commando, popular with young, hip audiences.

His humor is his saving grace. Let’s face it, although Arnold projects a likable personality, his acting powers are limited. That accent, which only gets thicker as his dialogue increases, is a major problem. And the name is not traditional matinee-idol stuff.

None of that has stopped Big Arnie. He just grins, keeps it light, and makes sure the final reel has enough bloodshed to satisfy his millions of thirsty fans.

Raw Deal hews to the formula. Schwarzenegger is an ex-FBI man, railroaded out of the Bureau some years before, now a sheriff in a small Southern town. When an old colleague (Darren McGavin) loses a son to a Chicago godfather (Sam Wanamaker), he calls on Arnold to do a little unauthorized work.

Our man slicks his hair back, adopts a tree-trunk cigar, and infiltrates the family. He also meets a moll (Kathryn Harrold) whose chest rivals his own.

While Raw Deal is quite well-plotted, you know that most of the plot stuff is an excuse for Arnold to get mad toward the end. Sure enough, he straps himself down with plenty of ammo, cranks up the Stones’ “Satisfaction” on his car radio, and proceeds, as one character puts it, to do 100 years of police work in one afternoon.

Through it all, Schwarzenegger keeps up a stream of bon mots. Unfortunately, because the accent (they’ve stopped explaining it) is richer than a Viennese torte, many of these fall dead at his feet. But you always have the idea he’s trying. That’s not quite as facetious as it sounds; his good-natured wise-guy routine builds up strong audience loyalty.

Raw Deal is not as far-out as his last couple of films, and it’s not as much fun either. Director John Irvin, a versatile fellow whose previous outing was with the highbrow pauses of Harold Pinter’s Turtle Diary, never comes close to the nihilistic glee of The Terminator. Irvin’s heart doesn’t really seem to be in the two-fisted genre.

So the weight of the film falls on Arnold’s shoulders—I don’t have to tell you how broad they are—and he delivers the necessary firepower. With a smile. And why not? His career is booming and, by his recent marriage to Maria Shriver, he’s now the newest Kennedy. Man, talk about “Satisfaction.”

First published in the Herald, June 7, 1986

There was a funny exchange on an old “At the Movies” or “Sneak Previews” or wherever the hell Siskel & Ebert were at the time about Kathryn Harrold; Roger was singing her praises in a movie (The Sender, possibly?) and Gene finally said something like, “Oh why don’t you just ask her out?” An epic moment, and unexpectedly human, somehow.

Arnold was in his career groove at this point, and everything was turning to gold. Raw Deal was just one more out of the bratwurst-grinder.