The Specialist (1994)

*. A wonderfully bad movie with a pair of exemplary turns by two typecast stars.
*. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m talking about Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone. He’s the very strong, very silent type. And very muscular. Even his chest has bulging veins. She’s the leggy, sexy type, showcasing an ensemble of minidresses and lingerie while swaying her hips like an ocean liner on rough seas. And yes, they do hop into bed, and more notably the shower, together. Lots of glistening curves are exposed, though apparently Stallone had to get his co-star drunk to do the shower scene.
*. But I’m not talking about those two. Together they are every bit as dull as they sound. They’re less actors than models. As Hal Hinson wrote in his review: “with all the preening, posing and stretching, it’s hard to know if The Specialist is an action movie or an exercise video. Or a porn movie without the sex. Fit, trim and tanned to a luscious shade of gold, the stars offer their bodies to the camera as if they were contestants in a bodybuilding competition.”
*. During their shower scene I was reminded of the famous quip from Groucho Marx: “I never go to movies where the hero’s tits are bigger than the heroine’s.” I guess he wouldn’t have gone to see The Specialist. But he would have missed something because even though Stallone’s tits are ginormous, Stone’s are just as impressive.
*. But no, instead of these two plastic figures what I want to talk about are the other two typecast stars: Eric Roberts as the sleazy son of a Cuban-American drug lord in Miami (Rod Steiger, apparently having gone to the same voice coach as trained Al Pacino to do Tony Montana in Scarface), and James Woods as the even sleazier ex-CIA bad guy (the “trigger” to Stallone’s “rigger”) who is now a hired gun for Steiger.
*. How many times has Roberts played this part? Is it something about his look? Whatever the reason, he fits the bill here, and his wardrobe is even more remarkable than Stone’s, in a way that hasn’t dated nearly as well. You know, there was a time (I can still remember it) when Miami Vice was the coolest thing on TV. And it may be again. Meanwhile, I just felt bad that Tomas disappeared from the final act of the movie completely, and quite unexpectedly. It almost seemed as though whatever number of days-on-set Roberts had contracted for had run out and they just had to get rid of him. That’s too bad, especially since he’d obviously been hitting the gym pretty hard for the part.
*. And what (more) can we say about James Woods? His cynical smartassery is the movie’s only spark, and given Stallone’s inexplicably dour performance he takes the film over without a fight. Or almost. I’ve read that Stallone insisted some of Woods’s scenes be cut and for some of his own scenes to be re-shot in order for Stallone to have more screen time. He was concerned that Woods would steal the movie (which he did anyway). Apparently Stallone also cut out some of Rutger Hauer’s scenes from Nighthawks (1981) because of similar concerns. Stars have to protect their turf, I guess.
*. But even Woods doing his thing — and I defy anyone to watch his meltdown at the police station and not laugh out loud — isn’t enough to save The Specialist. This movie is bad. The premise is hard to provide a synopsis for because it fails to make any sense. Basically Stone is looking to avenge the murder of her father years earlier by Roberts. This is when Stone’s character was just a little girl and Roberts, who is only two years older than Stone, looked just the same. Anyway, Stone gets in touch with Stallone to see if he’ll help, seducing him with her sexy telephone voice. But she’s also working with Woods in some way that isn’t at all clear. I couldn’t figure it out.
*. Right from the get-go you know it’s going to be bad. Stallone’s character is apparently involved in some kind of CIA black ops but he’s a good guy. You may have heard of a “pat the dog” scene, which is something that gets slipped into a movie to let you know that the hero, whatever his faults, is one of the good guys. In The Specialist there are three such ham-handed declarations, as Stallone tries to abort an assassination attempt in order to save the life of a little girl, then adopts a stray cat, and then gives up his seat on a city bus to a pregnant lady. He sure is nice.
*. A tidbit I picked up from the Internet: “In January, 1993 the Los Angeles Times listed The Specialist as the best unproduced thriller script in Hollywood, based on a poll of forty agents, producers and studio executives.” God help us, or at least save us from these morons.
*. After the prologue we head to Miami and a long tracking shot that I should have been impressed by but which just left me wondering why, in a movie such as this, they were bothering. You know you’re watching a bad movie when you’re left questioning why they’re even trying to do something good.
*. Because Stallone and Woods are specialists in explosives we get to see things being blown up. A lot of things, being blown up real good. And some of the explosions are kind of neat. I particularly like the way the body of the first target is blown away from the booby-trapped door, and the guy, still strapped into his car seat, flying into the air when his car explodes. But I think that, in general, blowing things up is rarely very interesting. If you’ve seen one building or vehicle turn into a fireball you’ve pretty much seen them all.
*. Well, I began by calling this a wonderfully bad movie and I’ll stick with that. This is one of those few total cheeseburgers that’s actually so bad it is kind of good. It’s trash of a particular vintage, a very bad year, but I had a smile on my face nearly the whole time I was watching it. It’s a ’90s turkey, right down to Gloria Estefan’s hit single playing over the end credits. You didn’t have to be there in 1994 to love this kind of crap, but it probably helps.

5 thoughts on “The Specialist (1994)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Saw this at the cinema, and it’s a benchmark for expensive rubbish. The scene where Stallone beats up the people on the bus completely defeats the notion that he’s a below-the-radar operative…


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