The Specialist (1994)

The Specialist

I had the displeasure of seeing The Specialist in the cinema shortly after release. I remember writing it off as a particularly bland action flick with little to recommend other than those who are looking for a bit of A-list skin. So, 25 years later I decided to check it out again to see if it was a forgotten treasure. Here is what I found.

It’s probably worth mentioning that, in film, I believe James Woods can do no wrong. I find him a fascinating actor that easily flips from likable to thoroughly repugnant in an instant. He can play a hero then instantly a diabolical villain, a loving husband or father with wise words, all in the one year. Tremendously flexible.

The Specialist focuses on Stallone’s dull character of Ray, who is an explosives specialist for hire. Following an upsetting mission in Bogota Ray has beef with the dastardly Ned (James Woods.) Stallone is contacted by Stone through his high tech Psion (with the ability to play a Minidisc, by the way.) Stone hopes to employ him to use his expertise and dispatch a couple of members of the excellent supporting cast. Rob Steiger and Eric Roberts play father and son who are also villainous meanies in and around Miami. Woods happens to be their body guard/field man/secuity expert and working closely with the cops thanks to Steiger’s connections. Stallone cautiously accepts and embarks on a slow moving mission to take down the hat trick of villains and somehow, inexplicably have Stone fall in love with his drab and boring character.

There are two sequences this film is pretty well known for. The first is a poorly aged destruction sequence involving a hotel room collapsing into the sea. This is made more fun as Woods it leaping about, yelling at the henchmen, selling the sequence more than the effects do today. The second is the shower scene, often spoken about as the reason to see this film by my friends as a teenager. Today, it’s tame and more reminiscent of the trash you find on lesser cable channels late at night. Certainly I can understand the producers desire to make the most of Stallone and Stone in their birthday suits scrubbing each other’s back in a steamy shower for 2-3 minutes.

You might note a unimpressed tone when it comes to Stallone here, however, there is no character for him to play. Every scene with Stallone is a yawn-fest, and it’s through no fault of Stallone’s. There is a more fleshed out character in a local TV advert for a grocery shop. A scene has been added with Stallone beating up some pricks on a bus who take a pregnant lady’s seat to reaffirm that Stallone is the protagonist as despite blowing people up for a living, he is definatly the good guy of the story. He throws one of the troublemakers through the bus window which, in actuality, would have meant the service was suspended, the passengers would have had to disembark the bus, await a replacment vehicle and upset everyone’s plans for the day.

Every other character has much to do. Stone harbours such hatred for Roberts and the ruse to get close to him requires her to be on his arm and the object of his affecction for the majority of the film. Roberts is sleazy and unsettling as the plivilaged baddie and whilst he is all manners of evil he doesn’t force Stone to do anything she isn’t ready for in the bedroom, and drops her home as a reasonable hour after parties. Steiger goes the whole hog as a crime boss, with an accent, tan and temper.

It’s Woods who has a field day as the larger than life Ned, zipping about in a pinkish Porsche 968, wittily baiting Ray and May whilst yelling at cops, members of the public, dropping the odd one liner, storming funerals waving his gun around and being thoroughly unpleasant to be around. There are a number of nice moments when Steiger and Woods share a scene and to me, that made the watch worth it.

There is an incredibly cringy moment with Stallone and Stone engaging in what might be phone sex. Stallone does a bit of stretching in some jammies whilst, possibly, a body double of Stone struts around her dimly lit house in naughty outfits, stands on a fan and breaths down the phone receiver. Stallone looks a little confused by the experience as he listens to Stone’s breathing on his headphones, perhaps a little burp slipped out. I think the desired effect is supposed to be “erotic.” I’m not sure it worked.

The films really has little else that stands out. Shot with little pizazz, the explosions and action sequences look clean and defined. There is a larger usage made of wide shots, but then mixed with clumsy close-ups featuring stuntmen. One sequence in the opening scene sticks out as James Woods’ stuntman gets some overly obvious screen time whilst fighting with Stallone. Certainly the backdrop of Miami helps make things look more impressive, however, in all it feels like a missed opportunity.

Really this should have had a budget of around £10 million and starred a combination of the video stars of the time. The bigger glosser look doesn’t help the film or dissuade from the lack of substance. Stallone is better than this and it is a waste of his presence. Stone is used in a few sequences to show off her body and it does feel exploitive today given that she is so much more than that.

The Specialist is not worth revisiting, unless you are a fan of the more colourful actors in here.

There was only one poster used with next to no variation. However, the artwork from Ghana, which is normally lampooned, is pretty excellent.


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