Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a cow: “Raw Deal”

September 6, 2012

Raw Deal has been referred to as “the lost Schwarzenegger” film by some. Well, by me. Last night when I watched it. Still, I think it’s a pretty accurate description, since it’s almost never referred to when the big man’s filmography is reviewed. We remember Commando (1985) and Predator (1987), but as far as most people are concerned, Arnie just took 1986 off. True, Raw Deal was an underperformer, but so were many of his movies. No, the reason this movie has slipped from memory is pretty much the same as the reason no one remembers   1988’s Red Heat: Both of these movies appear to have been written as, well, real movies and called upon Arnie to play someone other than himself. You know, like an actual person, and let’s face it: if there is one thing Schwarzenegger does not in any way, shape, or form resemble it is an actual human being. I mean, I still have trouble believing the guy really exists.

In Raw Deal, Arnie plays Mark Kaminsky, a disgraced FBI agent forced out of the Bureau and now living as a Sheriff in a Podunk southern town. Kaminsky seems okay with it, but his harridan wife is losing her mind from boredom and shows her dismay by drinking heavily and throwing cakes at him. Opportunity knocks—well, murders—when a Chicago mobster named Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker) has his goons assault an FBI safehouse and kill a witness against him. In the ensuing bloodbath, all the agents guarding him are mown down. It’s like a reverse Little Bohemia shootout.

One of the agents is the son of Kaminsky’s old supervisor (Darin McGavin), who decides he wants Patrovita’s network annihilated. Problem is the Bureau has a leak, so he enlists Kaminsky to infiltrate the family in a totally secret, off-the-books operation. So, Kaminsky heads to Chicago, slicks back his hair, throws on the largest double-breasted suit ever bespoke (I can only assume when receiving their marching orders, the poor Asians on the line in the sweatshop stopped everything and exclaimed “are you fucking kidding me?”), and, voila! Instant gangster. It’s like, wow! Am I watching a Scorcese film all of a sudden? Ha! I kid.

Holy crap! Joe Pesci is in this movie!

So, Kaminsky gets in with Patrovita’s outfit by harassing some businesses run by Patrovita’s rival, Martin Lamanski (Steven Hill). He wrecks one of Lemanski ‘s illegal casinos—throwing down with pretty much everyone in the joint (even tossing one into the rafters—no shit, the rafters), before running a tow truck through it (Kaminski has no notion of the concept of overkill, it seems). Later, he steals the jewelry off of Lamanski’s main squeeze (Robey—remember her? She was on the Friday the 13th TV show. She was hot in 1988).


There she is.

This gets the attention of Patrovita’s number two, the cat-headed Paulo Rocca (Paul Shenar), who decides to give him a position as a kind of probationary leg-breaker alongside his main torpedo, Max Kellar (Robert Davi). Well, Kellar doesn’t trust Kaminsky any further than he can throw him, so he has Monique (Kathryn Harrold)–a woman with a steep tab at one of Patrovita’s casinos—get close to him to try and suss out his secrets.

While this happens, the feud between Patrovita and Lamanski heats up, and Patrovita is further aggravated when one of his stash houses is raided by the cops, and he looses a couple million in money and smack. Rather than just write it off, Patrovita orders Kellar to get it back somehow. Kaminsky comes up with the brilliant plan to clear out the police station that’s holding it by calling in a phony bomb threat (that was totally cool in the pre-9/11 world) and go in disguised as the bomb-squad. In contradiction to all logic, this actually works.

Problem is, Rocca has found the cracks in Kaminsky’s cover, and decides to expose him by taking him along on a hit against McGavin. Thanks to Kaminsky having the reaction time of a garden snail, McGavin gets shot, but not before he and Kaminsky take out Rocca. With the op now in tatters, Kaminsky decides to take down Petravita the only way left to him: he gets out his arsenal and attacks Patrovita’s entire operation. Which, you know, he probably could have done in the first act of this movie and saved everyone a lot of time, but whatever. Do I have to tell you that Arnie does a lot of stationary spray-shooting and wipes out more Chicagoins than that fire? I didn’t think so.

You know, Arnie, they put sights on those things for a reason.

As an action flick, Raw Deal isn’t bad. It has a survivable plot—certainly better than Commando or Eraser—and the mob scenes feature some pretty convincing situations and dialogue. The problem with the film is that it seems like a thriller that Arnie was dropped into late in the game, and then suffered some rewrites to accommodate his outsized screen presence. It’s an imperfect fit, the quintessential ‘80s action film grafted onto a gritty crime drama.

It also suffers by asking Arnie to act. Throughout his career Arnie more or less played his character—the winking, human juggernaut, who’s really a big softie—and that’s fine, since he’s such an appealing screen presence. But in playing an undercover cop, we get too little of that character. Red Heat had the same problem, when he had to play a humorless Russian cop. He’s just not fun enough.

Some other random thoughts:

* Arnie’s wife has a howler of a line during their marital spat: “Just because we’re fit doesn’t mean we’re not cows!” Holy shit, this line is like a Zen koan of illogic.

* Kaminski fakes his death before going undercover by blowing up an entire chemical factory! Uh…wasn’t there a way you could have done that without causing millions of dollars of property damage and, you know, starting a massive chemical fire?

* Has Robert Davi always looked like a gangster? When he was twelve, was he shaking down kids on the playground for the vig they owed him for his under-the-table tetherball racket?

“You wanna be fitted for a cement Trapper Keeper, kiddo?”

* When exposing a crooked craps table, Arnie has the line, “Magic? Or magnets?” Insane Clown Posse is watching that scene on super slo-mo as we speak trying to unravel that riddle.

* Lamanski’s men try to kill Patrovita by ambushing him from a school bus. Patrovita ducks and avoids the bullets, and, rather than get out and finish the job, the school bus just slooowly trundles away. Yeah, that’s some good mobstering there…

* Arnie trying to be suave and seductive with Harrold. It’s like watching someone perform open-heart surgery with a brick.

I swear I felt my prostrate commit suicide during this scene.

* After Arnie’s lousy reflexes get McGavin shot with a shotgun blasts, McGavin just waves him off by gasping, “It’s alright…” Wow, most understanding guy ever!

* Another telltale sign this movie wasn’t written with Arnie in mind: goons keep threatening him with switchblades and their fists (bwahahahahahaha!), and not, say, a Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which might actually injure him. A little bit.

* During his climactic assault on one of Patrovita’s stash houses, Arnie drives around in a convertible blasting people. Um, is a convertible the most tactically-sound vehicle for that job? I can think of one big weakness…

* The end rips off Casablanca, with Arnie putting the girl on a night flight in a small prop plane, and then walking off with a new, cop-buddy. Holy fuck, are you kidding me? Casablanca? What perverse screenwriter horked up that idea?

Anyway, that’s Raw Deal. My DVD cover has the tagline “His trigger has all the answers.” WTF?!?

One comment

  1. Just watched this…only one scene w/ Robie(heartbreaking)…ugh;
    Still, at the very least, this film offers up a very enlightened relationship between Harrold and A.S.—friendship: for the mid 80s, that is impressive.

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