Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Joe Regalbuto, Robert Davi, Ed Lauter, Mordecai Lawner
Directed by John Irvin
Expectations: Moderate. I saw this a couple of times as a kid but I don’t remember much about it, which probably isn’t a good sign.
Only in terms of action:
When a movie opens with machine guns, power boats, witness protection and synth rock grooves, my only answer is a broad smile. Raw Deal is not an Arnold film that gets much love these days, but it’s definitely a worthwhile entry in his filmography. While it is a minor film alongside the others that Arnold made around it (The Terminator, Commando and Predator), taken on its own Raw Deal more than delivers its share of great Arnold moments and excellent ’80s action.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mark Kaminsky, an ex-FBI agent currently serving as the sheriff of a small town. His wife is furious about being stuck in the country for the last five years, so when Arnold’s former colleague at the bureau offers him an undercover mission infiltrating the Chicago mob, Arnold jumps at the chance so that he might be able to make his wife happy again. Or just to get away from her. Little details like this are not the strong suit of ’80s action films. Anyway… cue the montage of Arnold slicking back his hair, and before we can say “Great Terwilligers!” we’re on our way with Schwarzenegger to break up a backroom gambling joint and drive a tow truck through its walls.
Raw Deal is a much more down-to-earth action film for Arnold (especially at this point in his career) and he handles the material well. The role isn’t really tailored to make Arnold stand tall as a giant among men, but he does get more than a few chances to assert his Arnold-rific greatness (which he, of course, also does well). But Raw Deal is a more subtle and grounded film, so I can understand why it is lost in the shuffle among the Arnold classics.
In addition to the “slick back the hair” montage, Raw Deal also features an awesome “getting ready” montage, something that modern action films need a whole lot more of. ’80s action movies and every episode of The A-Team had one because they knew that’s what kept everyone coming back for more. The simple power of a close-up of a shell entering a shotgun’s chamber has largely been forgotten in today’s CGI haze; the flashing lights have dazzled audiences to the point of losing sight of what really excites us. Put on some dope rock ‘n’ roll and check that revolver’s load! Simple images are the most effective, and a grouping of them in montage is what my entire generation’s dreams were built upon.
What’s even better is that Mark, Arnold’s character, seems to be aware of this fact. In a climactic scene at a construction site, Mark has prepared himself to drive into the location and lay waste to whatever might stand before him. But before he guns the throttle into certain death, he pops in a Rolling Stones tape so that his ride into destiny is scored by Satisfaction. If he dies and he can’t get no satisfaction through revenge, he’s damn sure to die on a high note listening to some of the best that rock ‘n’ roll ever offered the world.
The only thing that really holds Raw Deal back are the scenes without Arnold, involving the interplay between the mobsters. I never did put names to their faces, so when one guy was talking about how so-and-so was a bastard, I was lost as to who that bastard was. It’s a minor concern because regardless of who the mob guy thinks is a bastard, Arnold knows they’re all bastards. And we know he’s going to kick all of their bastard asses. It would be nice if the story made more sense at times, but before you get too far along in that thought process while watching Raw Deal, some dope ’80s rock music will play and Arnold will bust a few heads. Problem solved.
Raw Deal has gotten a raw deal from Arnold fans for years, but I’d definitely recommend giving it another shot. It’s a lot of fun if you forget what you know of Arnold’s better films, and it’s also the first film to feature Arnold riding a motorcycle and smoking his trademark cigars. That should count for something, right?
I’ve already reviewed Arnold’s next film, Predator, so next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger will be The Running Man, another of my all-time favorite films. Can’t wait! See ya then!