If their film hadn't come so closely on the heels of "Mission: Impossible," the creators of "Eraser" might have been accused of plagiarism. As it is, they certainly should be accused of indulging in needless violence.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's long-awaited follow-up to "True Lies" is very similar in plot to the Tom Cruise blockbuster, and borrows too heavily from some of Arnold's other movies, as well as "The Bodyguard" and "The Net.""Eraser" is also extremely violent and gruesome at times, so that such moments outweigh its much-better humorous side.
Schwarzenegger plays the title character, John Kruger, a U.S. marshal who "erases" the identities of individuals participating in WITSEC, the federal government's witness relocation program. Here, Kruger is assigned to protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams), who has turned over evidence of illegal arms deals to the FBI.
It turns out that Cullen's employers, the evil CYREZ Corporation, have built thousands of working "rail guns," incredibly destructive weapons with X-ray sighting scopes and which are capable of firing bullets at near-light speed, which they plan to sell to international terrorists.
The conspiracy goes so deep in the federal government that the bad guys manage to frame Kruger for the deaths of other WITSEC agents and witnesses.
The latter plot twist parallels "Mission: Impossible," right down to Kruger finding he's been betrayed by his mentor, Robert Deguerin (James Caan). Also similar is a scene that has Kruger and Cullen infiltrating CYREZ headquarters, with the help of Johnny C (Robert Pastorelli), another "erased" WITSEC witness.
Screenwriters Tony Puryear and Walon Green have come up with a passable action-suspense premise - the idea of high-velocity weapons with sights that can see through walls (they can even tell what you're eating) is pretty fun.
And the film does feature some spectacular action sequences, in particular, an airplane escape that features some mind-boggling stunts. Of course, the same scene also includes an illogical plane chase (the audience is expected to believe that jetliners can turn on a dime).
Those points alone should have made "Eraser" a winner. But the film is filled with extreme violence and gore. For example, a bad guy's arm gets chewed off by an alligator in one graphic moment, and Arnold is impaled through body parts in two different scenes!
That's largely director Charles Russell's fault. Though he showed admirable control in "The Mask," Russell also directed the third installment of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. "Eraser," unfortunately, is more akin to the latter.
The film is also extremely predictable and derivative. That Caan's character turns out to be a traitor won't surprise anyone, while scenes that have Schwarzenegger rescuing Williams from a crane and carrying two large weapons rip off "True Lies" and "The Terminator." (It's frightening that Russell should make James Cameron, who directed both those films, seem like the model of restraint.)
Schwarzenegger is well, Schwarzenegger. He gets in a few good quips, but his performance likely won't help or hinder his career. Williams is slightly wooden, but, surprisingly, displays a flair for the physical side of her role.
The supporting cast, especially Caan and Pastorelli, fare much better. Caan plays his role subtly, until his true character is revealed (he then goes a bit over the top), and Pastorelli ("Murphy Brown") adds much-needed humorous relief.
"Eraser" is rated R for considerable violence and gore, as well as profanity. Parents should think seriously before taking even older children.