IN THIS summer's battle of the big guns, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets in the last shot with his savage mobster drama, "Raw Deal." He's no match for top gun Tom Cruise, but he is one up on Sylvester Stallone.
As a new member of the Kennedy clan, Schwarzenegger has decided he'd better learn how to act. So the muscle-bound behemoth keeps his bulges mostly under wraps, and methodically emotes. It's a little painful sometimes, like waiting for a stutterer to say shower cap. But sometimes, the effect is drop-dead comic relief -- a real hoot.
Schwarzenegger plays a disgraced FBI agent who redeems himself with the bureau by infiltrating the Chicago mob. Incredibly, none of the windy citizens suspect the out-sized hero when he says he says he's from Miami -- never mind that he looks like a Gobot and sounds like Colonel Klink.
The accent, no worse than Stallone's surely, isn't as much of a drawback as the hero's size and gracelessness. From the rear, he looks like an enormous canned ham on legs as he stalks Chicago's underground. His epic proportions overwhelm his character, not to mention the rest of the regular-sized gangster cast. It's like Paul Bunyan trying to squeeze into Elliot Ness' shoulder holster.
Though armed with the standard weapons, Schwarzenegger is uncomfortable hiding behind them. He's better barefisted, bashing hoods to soundtrack-enhanced kapows in several satisfying donnybrooks. But the general mayhem is interrupted for your usual mob infiltration movie plot, which includes Kathryn Harrold as the love interest.
Harrold is a class act as a cold moll who warms to the job of babysitting the new guy. She manages to get his shirt off (all those buttons!), but he knocks himself out on the headboard before they can do a love scene. Later we get a peek at the fabled pecs as Schwarzenegger shrugs into a clean tank top. While the couple is drinking champagne, the hero notes that it is better than sleeping pills because you shouldn't put chemicals in your body.
"Raw Deal" is packed with health tips. In an opening scene, the hero's wife, a sloppy drunk, has baked a cake. "That will make us fat," he warns. So she throws it at him. "You should not drink and bake," he says. He remains faithful to her though tempted by Harrold, whose vamps seem wasted on the monolith. It's like flirting with Stonehenge.
Schwarzenegger is as funny as he was in "Commando," with some swell tough guy bravado written by Gary DeVore of "Running Scared" and Norman Wexler of "Saturday Night Fever." John Irvin, who adapted "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" for TV and "Turtle Diary" for screen, is a strange choice as the director, but he isn't shy about violence. It's his studied style and his tight rein on Schwarzenegger that stall the show.
"Raw Deal" is not as reactionary as "Cobra" but it's just as violent, maybe even bloodier, with its graphic gun fights and bullet-spattered, shattered bodies blasted before our eyes. Still it's also a quality project -- the look and sound of the film are first rate. Obviously, Schwarzenegger is serious. He's no longer the monosyllabic swordswinger, the biceps bimbo. And maybe that's the trouble. What's a retired barbarian to do? RAW DEAL (R) -- At area theaters.