The Specialist

(1994) * 1/2 R
110 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Luis Llosa. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts.

/content/films/4196/1.jpgEveryone knows that kitties love homicidal mercenary explosives experts. But for those who don't, there's The Specialist, another Sylvester Stallone action picture that's as dumb as a bag of hammers. It's part of the implicit hero code that Hollywood action stars must fit into personas that are tough but vulnerable: badass killers you would want to have a beer with or perhaps settle down with in a remote cabin after conspiring to murder someone who was really asking for it.

And so it was that Stallone met Stone, Sharon Stone. The Italian Stallion plays Ray Quick, an ex-CIA agent with a gift for booby traps (keeping in mind Stallone's pectorals, you may insert your own pun here). Forced into freelance work after a mission to assassinate a Colombian drug lord goes pear-shaped, Ray fields an offer from the mysterious May Munro (Stone), who needs help avenging the deaths of her parents. Against his better judgment, Ray accepts the contract, but soon discovers he can't keep his client out of his hair: that's not such a bad thing when she finds her way into bed (and shower) with him, but it's a mite inconvenient when he's attempting the clean kills of three career criminals. What's worse, the baddies have hired for protection Ray's nasty old CIA partner, Ned Trent (James Woods). But the fireworks show must go on. Welcome to Specialist-town: more explosions per capita than any other movieland.

Over two long hours, the story lopes along, straining credibility well past its limits. Stallone broods and occasionally flexes naked biceps and haunches; Stone likewise gets naked (probably the main reason the picture still has a shelf life) and ill-advisedly emotes through expository monologues. It's a toss up as to whether the script or the leading actors are worse, so it's a foregone conclusion that neither element will rescue the other. Suggested by the "Specialist" novels by John Shirley, Luis Llosa's best-known film this side of Anaconda almost gets by with enough creatively staged kills and excessive sex, violence and tropical heat (of the Miami Beach setting) to get the flick halfway to a low-grade James Bond outing; indeed, the choice of eleven-time Bond composer John Barry to score The Specialist can be no accident.

Furthering the cheese factor are prime-slime Eric Roberts as one of the targets and Rod Steiger as his father, the latter affecting a wacky Cubano accent seemingly learned from listening a few times to Al Pacino's Scarface. No one here works harder than Woods, who's at full wattage as he expertly spews smarm; it's nice to know that's someone's being entertained as a result of The Specialist, even if he has to do it by and for himself.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/16/2011

Distributor: Warner Home Video

/content/films/4196/2.jpgWarner again keeps things pleasingly simple with its Blu-ray debut of The Specialist. Eschewing digital tampering, the hi-def transfer serves up a clean, natural, film-like image that features accurate color and solid contrast and black level. It's not the crispest image around: rather, it's a bit on the flat side. Still, the picture quality takes a noticeable step up from DVD in detail and texture, and it's hard to imagine this film looking better on home video. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix mostly excels in giving John Barry's score a warm embrace, but there's a fair amount of rumbly oomph in the explosions and some directional flair in the placement of the explosive sound effects. The sole bonus feature here is the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:58, SD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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