Raw Deal (1986): 7 out of 10: By the numbers undercover cop destroys mob from the inside while being seduce my the trappings helped immensely by Arnold’s charm and some decent B-Movie action.
The Good: Well, for one thing, it has Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie is one of those actors that automatically increases a movies watchability grade. You can dub him, stick him in a PG movie with Wilt Chamberlain. Heck, you can give him a ridiculous costume and make all his lines ice puns and the movie is still… Okay, even Arnie cannot save Batman and Robin. But the point still stands.
The rest of the cast with one exception below, (There is always one isn’t there.) is also top-notch or at the very least perfectly cast. A special shout out goes to the lovely Kathryn Harrold as Arnie’s possible love interest. (Arnie’s married to a violent dunk with whom he is faithful in that John Marston what the hell are you doing kind of way.) Kathryn even survives the screenwriters recreating the ending of Casablanca with Arnie in the Bogart role. (Like I said Raw Deal has some issues.)
The other thing that is excellent is the heist itself in the middle of the film. Not is the way they filmed the heist mind you (The direction by John Irvin could kindly be described as workman like), but the actual concept and mechanics. If you wanted to steal a bunch of cocaine from a police evidence locker, honestly, this might work. It is a well thought out plan that doesn’t depend on blind luck, leaps of logic, or magic. (I am looking your way Ocean’s Eleven. I know I know people don’t watch Ocean’s films for the heists; they watch them to try to figure out who made Julia Roberts a star and why is she so bad in this. Seriously, she is awful.)
The Bad: The budget for Raw Deal outside of our star’s salary looked to be about the same as an ABC Movie of the Week. As I stated before, the direction is uninspired. The camera is in focus and pointed in the general direction of the actors. But that is about it.
The script, on the other hand, is all over the place. You have the excellent heist above. You also have some other fun scenes such as Arnie driving a tow truck into a redneck bar (shades of The Terminator) and a school bus of machine gun enthusiasts somehow unable to hit the two people they are aiming at hiding behind a limo.
The problem is the script writes checks that neither the budget nor the director can cash. To make things even worse, the script goes well insane at times, often in the backstory department.
Let’s take a couple of examples. Arnie is married to a violent, birthday cake throwing drunk. He fakes his own death to infiltrate the mob on behalf of his friend (Darren McGavin) whose son was killed by the same. Arnie stays faithful to his wife and at the end of the movie they live happily ever after. What? Dude, I am pretty sure that faking your own death is not the kind of thing even a loving wife is going to let you walk back anytime soon. Even Tom Hanks couldn’t make that work with Helen Hunt, and he faked his own death by accident.
Second Example: Kathryn Harrold is a gambling addict who is paying off her debt with some light prostitution on behalf of boyfriend/pimp Robert Davi. Davi sends her to seduce Arnold and sleep with him to get some dirt since Davi doesn’t trust his application to Chicago Mob Inc. Kathryn, of course, fails at this since Arnie is secretly a married man. And then, out of nowhere, the movie decides that the hostility between Davi and Arnie is going to be based on a love triangle with Kathryn. What? Arnie is not interested in her and the other guy is her pimp. What the hell are you doing, Raw Deal?
The Ugly: Arnie is great and looks fantastic in a suit. Kathryn Harrold is fantastic and looks great out of a suit (in lingerie, calm down boys). You also have Robert Davi doing his Licence to Kill character. In fact, everyone reaches a level of competence. Except…
I love Darren McGavin, as anyone who reads me will know. But good lord, he is awful in this. His ending arc where he learns to walk again is from a different movie, in a different genre, in a different decade. It is one of the most painful to watch and saccharine endings I have ever seen on film.
Things I learned from Raw Deal:
- It is easier to get a job at Mob Inc than at the Cheesecake Factory. (Seriously Cheesecake Factory has you fill out two personality tests and demands three current references.)
- Kathryn Harrold really looks good in black lingerie
- Arnie is completely watchable in anything as long as you don’t give him lines such as “Ice to meet you”
- Mobsters in the eighties liked Members Only jackets. Unknown if they were wearing them ironically.
- American cars in the eighties were very explosive.
A note about Transvestite Bars:
In the middle of the movie Arnie and Davi go to a transvestite bar to shake down the owner for some dosh. I remember bars like this and used to go to a couple in the early nineties in New York. They were fun places with a mixed crowd and good music. The transvestites were just being themselves hustling for drinks and tips. Nobody made a big deal about nothing and not a single persons feelings were hurt due to a misapplied pronoun.
I think the current “culture” surrounding transvestites is not nearly as much fun or as inclusive or laid back. Some take themselves way too seriously and think they invented the art form in 2003. (Fun Fact Ford used a transvestite to promote their new car, The Edsel, in 1957).
Honestly, lighten up and enjoy the music. Raw Deal used a transvestite strip joint because, well, that was a kind of bar that was around back then. It was not commented on in any way and there was no larger subtext. That complete scene is a fascinating window into a world that has disappeared under the weight of self serious narcissists.
In Conclusion: For Every scene of Arnie mowing down bad guys to the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, there is a scene that would not be out of place in a Full Moon production. I like Raw Deal, but the actors and nostalgia for the eighties are doing a lot of heavy lifting here. In reality, the movie is a bit of a mess.