Raw Deal

Sandwiched between Commando and Predator in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s epic flex of an 80’s resumè lies the mostly forgotten Raw Deal, an action thriller that painfully had to learn a fatal mistake when casting the infamous Austrian Oak during his meteoric rise to being the most famous actor on earth. The lesson is this: if you’re not hiring Arnie to play a Terminator or Conan the Cimmerian then you’d better be hiring him to play Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role fitting his particularly overexagerated talents, otherwise the film ends up rejecting it’s concept like an unsuccessful transplant and feels more than a little absurd – and not in the normal Schwarzenegger way…
What I’m trying to get at is if your star – who is already renowned for being larger than life – already slaughtered an entire army of South American troops singlehandedly during his last movie, taking down some Chicago mobsters isn’t going to prove a particular challenge…

Exiled for five years as a small town sherriff after breaking the majority of a child murderer’s bones during his time as an FBI agent, Mark Kaminski is trying to make the best of it while waiting for the Feds to contact him again. It’s not been easy however as his wife has seemingly become an unhinged alcoholic thanks to living half a decade away from the city life she desperately craves and Mark himself fears that his marriage to this obviously hideous woman is on the verge of collapsing. Meanwhile, men working under orders from slippery Chicago mobster Luigi Patrovita slaughter the federal inhabitants of safe house in order to plug the informant that dwells within which causes the death of the son of Harry Shannon, a former colleague of Mark’s. Realising that Patrovita is far too connected to take down by conventional means, Harry decides to finance his own operation to take the gangster down (way to create a paper trail, Harry) and bring Mark out of exile to go under cover, bring down the mob from within and essentially do all the hard work himself. Mark obviously agrees and immediately fakes his own death by blowing up an entire local oil refinery to get the ball rolling (pays to be thorough I suppose) and then reinvents himself as mob fixer Joseph P. Brenner who spouts slick criminal bullshit like “in Miami we can tell everything by the flow of the blow” and claims that the “P” in his name stands for pussy – although I deeply suspect he may be lying. Completing the image by slicking back his hair, wearing natty threads and puffing on cigars the size of a Subway sandwich, “Joseph” sidles into Patrovita’s organisation with surprising ease for a man who looks like he was forged by the Bavarian military and starts gaining trust by wrecking the businesses of rival mobsters while helping his “boss” figure out how to steal back a shit-load of his own heroin back from a police lock up. Will Mark manage to complete his task despite the jealous eyeball of fellow fixer Max on his back and can he save his friend when word gets out that Harry is still gunning for the crooks that killed his son? Probably… it’s an 80’s Arnie flick after all.

Possibly the most nondescript entry in the cannon of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies (and yes, I’m claiming it’s even more forgettable than Red Sonja) the problem (or “raw deal”, if I’m being smart) that Raw Deal can’t overcome is that Arnold is starring in an action thriller that would actually benefit more if it’s hero wasn’t a human being who looks like he’s made out of an indestructible wall of ham joints. Far more suited to a slightly more vunerable sort of hero (a Nick Nolte or a Sam Elliot  perhaps), Schwarzenegger was becoming far more famous for having much grander enemies to crush to match his hulking appearance and sure enough, as if to prove my point further, the following year he was going toe to toe with an extra terrestrial big game hunter in the remarkable Predator. The film is even kind enough to prove my point when, after all the sneaking, plotting and fake identities, Mark’s buddy Harry gets shot, our hero tools up with enough weaponry to level Cuba and simply massacres his way to the end credits like someone playing the easy setting on the story mode on a first person shooter. If the mission was off the books and Mark had no qualms about slaughtering the Chigago mob like cattle, why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
Another issue with Schwarzenegger’s casting is he’s required to do a little more than just kill and quip and at this point in his career any attempt at subtlety was a little beyond him which leads to some unintentional gold – especially seeing as Schwarzenegger’s drunk acting is quite a thing to witness and we’re gifted with the legendary “You should not drink and bake” line.
It’s not all Schwarzenegger’s fault though, the plot’s fairly hackneyed and often a little baffling in it’s logic, especially involving the discarded subplot of Kaminski’s wife who’s sole sceen depicts her as a cake flinging, boozed up harpy but who Mark continuously defends despite his faking own death without a second thought for her obviously fragmenting sanity. There’s a whole fascinating, unwritten story here concerning a woman driven to the bottle because she hates her very existence who’s husband has exploded and left her alone in a small town she hates more than life itself, only for him to pop up again weeks later reeking of cordite and expensive cologne saying that everything’s going to be ok and the fact we don’t get an actual onscreen resolution to this is comedic heresy of the highest order.

With all that being said, despite it’s many flaws – that to be honest is only caused by Hollywood being slow on the uptake on how to properly cast it’s unique lead – Raw Deal still works as a basic, cheesy, gimmick-less Arnie action flick that’s a fairly forgettable ride. The action is competent (Mark driving around a quarry machine gunning thugs from a speeding car to the sounds of The Rolling Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction is ironically hugely satisfying), the dialogue is admirably two-fisted (“First you bust him up real good, public and messy. Everybody should what you get when you kick in my door!”) and there’s even a substantial role for cult character actor Robert Davi, so there’s actually a fair bit to be enjoyed here – but compared to the other, mold-breaking roles Schwarzenegger had in legitimately five-star classics during the same decade, Raw Deal looks simply undercooked…

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