Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Chuck Russell|
|Produced by||Anne Kopelson|
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Edited by||Michael Tronick|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$242.3 million|
Eraser is a 1996 American action film directed by Chuck Russell and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vanessa L. Williams, James Caan, James Coburn, and Robert Pastorelli. The film follows a U.S Marshal of WITSEC who protects a senior operative testifying about an illegal arms deal and is forced to fight his former allies when one of the players is revealed to be a mole inside WITSEC.
The film was a commercial success, grossing over $242 million against a budget of $100 million. It received mixed reviews from critics, but they praised Williams and Schwarzenegger's performances, the action sequences and the visual effects. It was released in the United States on June 21, 1996 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing in 1997. It was also one of the first major films released on DVD, being part of the Japanese launch lineup of Warner Home Video's debut of the format on December 20, 1996.
John Kruger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – a top U.S. Marshal for the Witness Security Protection Program (WITSEC) – specializes in "erasing" high-profile witnesses: faking their deaths to protect them from anyone that might silence them. After erasing mob witness Johnny Casteleone (Robert Pastorelli), John is given a new assignment by his boss, Chief Arthur Beller (James Coburn), to protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa L. Williams), a senior executive at Cyrez Corporation, a defense contractor. Lee warned the FBI that top-level Cyrez executives covered up the creation of a top secret electromagnetic pulse rifle and plan to sell the weapon on the black market.
In an FBI sting operation, Lee accesses the Cyrez mainframe and downloads data on the EM rifle onto two discs: one for the FBI and one for her own protection. Vice President William Donohue (James Cromwell), her boss, detects Lee's intrusion and orders her into his office. After finding Lee's hidden camera and threatening her with a pistol, Donohue commits suicide in front of her. Lee delivers the disc to the FBI but, disillusioned by their broken promise to guarantee her safety, refuses John's protection offer. The FBI's disc is replaced with a fake by a mole working for Deputy Secretary of Defense Daniel Harper (Andy Romano), the conspiracy's mastermind.
That night, Lee's house is attacked by a mercenary team led by J. Scar (Mark Rolston) sent by Cyrez' corrupt CEO, Eugene Morehart (Gerry Becker). John rescues Lee and hides her in New York City, keeping her location secret even from WITSEC. John learns from his mentor, Marshal Robert DeGuerin (James Caan), that several witnesses have been murdered because a mole in WITSEC is leaking information and they must relocate their witnesses. Along with agents Calderon (Nick Chinlund), Schiff (Michael Papajohn) and newcomer Deputy Monroe (Danny Nucci), they raid a remote cabin and kill mercenaries holding DeGuerin's witness hostage, but DeGuerin discreetly kills her when the mercenary leader reveals the marshal as the mole. Flying back to DC, DeGuerin drugs an increasingly suspicious John who manages to warn Lee to relocate before losing consciousness. The warning call is traced to NYC and DeGuerin kills Monroe using John's gun, framing him as the mole. Revealing he, Calderon, and Schiff are corrupt, DeGuerin explains he is the go-between for the black market buyer, and John escapes from the plane to rescue Lee from DeGuerin's mercenaries. John saves Lee from J. Scar at Central Park Zoo, who pursues them; John releases several alligators that devour Scar and his mercenaries.
DeGuerin has John and Lee branded as fugitives. The two enlist Johnny's help, and using a mainframe backdoor in Donohue's terminal, they decrypt Lee's second disc. It reveals that a huge shipment of EM rifles is at the Baltimore docks and will be delivered to Russian Mafia boss Sergei Ivanovich Petrofsky (Olek Krupa), who plans to sell the weapons overseas to terrorists. A Cyrez operative pinpoints their whereabouts and remotely destroys the disc; DeGuerin kidnaps Lee and takes her to the docks as the shipment is being loaded onto Petrofsky's Russian freighter.
Johnny contacts his mobster cousin Tony Two-Toes (Joe Viterelli) and associates to help John raid the docks. They kill Petrofsky, his henchmen, and DeGuerin's mercenaries. In a struggle atop a shipping container, DeGuerin holds Lee hostage, but John frees her and destroys the pulley system on the container crane, dropping DeGuerin and the container to the ground and exposing the presence of the EM rifles. John rescues the critically wounded DeGuerin, leaving him to be detained by Beller and the authorities and proving his and Lee's innocence.
Weeks later, John brings Lee to a hearing for DeGuerin, Harper, and Morehart, who are indicted for treason. With little confidence that her testimony could secure their convictions, John and Lee publicly fake their deaths in a van explosion. In the back of their limousine, DeGuerin congratulates Harper on their deaths and says that they should go back into black-market business as soon as possible, but is surprised when Harper says that he assumed DeGuerin had killed them. The men are confused, then shocked as their limo stops on a train track and the driver – a disguised Johnny – locks the doors and exits the vehicle. Kruger calls DeGuerin and tells him, "You've just been erased" as they see a train heading right for them. They can't escape, and the train slams into the limo, killing all three. Driving away Johnny waves goodbye to John, as he walks over to Lee in a waiting car. When Lee asks Kruger what happened he responds by telling her "they caught a train."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as US Marshal John Kruger
- Vanessa Williams as Lee Cullen
- James Caan as US Marshal Robert DeGuerin
- James Coburn as WITSEC Chief Arthur Beller
- Robert Pastorelli as Johnny Casteleone
- James Cromwell as William Donohue, Vice President of International Division at Cyrez and Cullen's supervisor
- Danny Nucci as WITSEC Deputy Monroe
- Andy Romano as Deputy Secretary of Defense Daniel Harper
- Joe Viterelli as Tony Two-Toes
- Olek Krupa as Sergei Ivanovich Petrofsky
- Gerry Becker as Eugene Morehart
- Nick Chinlund as Agent Calderon
- Michael Papajohn as Agent Schiff
- K. Todd Freeman as Agent Dutton
- Mark Rolston as J. Scar
- John Slattery as Agent Corman
- Robert Miranda as Frediano
- Roma Maffia as Claire Isaacs
- Tony Longo as Little Mike
- John Snyder as Sal
- Rick Batalla as Kevin, the Bartender
- Skipp Sudduth as Watch Commander
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as one of Petrofsky's guards
- Denis Forest as Cyrez's system administrator
- Patrick Kilpatrick as James Haggerty, Head of Cyrez Security
Development and casting
Director Chuck Russell and star Arnold Schwarzenegger were originally working on another project together when Eraser was brought to their attention. Russell was excited about the possibilities the film could bring between actor and the character: "I see Arnold the way a lot of people do – as a mythic, bigger-than-life character – and that's who Kruger is. The character and the scenario are based firmly in reality, but I liked the mythic proportions of this man with a strong sense of duty, a strong sense of honor, who will literally do anything to protect a noble witness. I was excited about doing a film that had heroic proportions." Producer Arnold Kopelson was also keen to cast Schwarzenegger in the role of "The Eraser", having talked with the actor about working on projects before. Vanessa Williams would be cast as the lead female character, Lee Cullen, the key witness Eraser must protect. Williams came to the attention of the Kopelsons when Maria Shriver, the wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, suggested her for the role. To play the character of DeGuerin (Kruger's mentor and the main sociopathic antagonist), the filmmakers wanted an actor who could "convey intelligence, skill and magnetism – a more mature version of the Kruger character", they would cast James Caan in this role. Before Caan was officially cast, Jonathan Pryce was also considered for the role. The screenplay was initially the work of Tony Puryear, who had a background in advertising and rap videos. Writers Walon Green and Michael S. Chernuchin had previously worked together on the television drama Law & Order. Extensive, uncredit rewrites were made by Frank Darabont and William Wisher Jr. (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Additional rewrites were made by John Milius as a favor to Schwarzenegger.
The "rail-gun" featured in the film as a key plot device, Schwarzenegger talks on the subject: "We paid a lot of attention to making the audience feel the danger of this weapon, that anyone can be outside of your house, looking right through the walls. It really leaves you nowhere to hide," he explains. "But, on top of that, we show the sophistication of the weapon in a lot of fun ways: you not only see through a building, you see a person's skeleton and even their heart beating inside. There are some great visual effects there."
Eraser began principal photography in New York City, locations would include The Harlem Rail Yard in the South Bronx, Central Park's Sheep Meadow and Chinatown. Following shooting in New York production moved to Washington D.C. For the action sequence which takes place in the Reptile House of New York City Zoo, interiors were built on the soundstages of the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. The screenplay went through numerous drafts with some of the most prominent screenwriters in the business, with a great deal of uncredited script-doctoring work being done by Graham Yost and William Wisher.
One of the most demanding action sequences in the film featured the character of Kruger forced to flee from a jet speeding through the skies at 250 miles per hour. Speaking about this scene, director Russell says: "These things are jigsaw puzzle pieces not only within shooting sequence but within each shot. You had elements that were live action, elements that were miniature, sometimes computer-generated, and they're all married together in the final processing." Some of the physical stunts were performed by Schwarzenegger himself. For the "aerial" stunt Arnold was required to fall 65 feet in vertical descent and perform a back flip in mid-flight. The shot took seven takes to get right. In the final film, Kruger appears to drop along the length of the fuselage and past the flaming engine of the Jet thanks to inventive camera angles and special effects.
The original name of the Cyrez corporations was "Cyrex". However, Cyrix, a microprocessor corporation and rival of Intel, protested. The name was then changed digitally in any scenes where the name appeared in a fairly costly process for the time, and dialogue redubbed. Some instances of the "Cyrex" logo are still visible in the finished film.
Eraser had an opening weekend of $24.5 million in the US during the summer season of 1996. The final US gross was $101.2 million and final worldwide gross was $242.3 million.
Based on 50 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating of 38% and an average score of 4.99/10. The site's consensus reads: "Eraser's shoot-'em-up action might show off some cutting edge weaponry, but its rote story is embarrassingly obsolete".
A more positive review came from Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3 stars out of a possible 4. He wrote that there were so many plot holes that "it helps to have a short attention span", but that Eraser is nonetheless "actually good action fun, with spectacular stunts and special effects" and a spirited performance from Williams "running and jumping and fighting and shooting and kicking and screaming and being tied to chairs and smuggling computer discs and looking great."
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