1994’s The Specialist is not the first movie that comes to mind when thinking of Sylvester Stallone’s career. It’s probably not the second, third, or fourth, either. Despite that, it’s one of his more successful films, a big hit in a series of wins. His career has had some major ups and downs, but when he went from Cliffhanger to Demolition Man to The Specialist, it seemed like Sly could do no wrong. Even when the movie wasn’t great – which The Specialist certainly isn’t – Stallone could still open at the top of the charts.
Directed by Luis Llosa from a script by Alexandra Seroes, The Specialist is heavy on plot. Too heavy, you could say. It twists and turns even when it doesn’t need to, getting caught up in its own story. The Specialist is needlessly complicated, to say the least. It oozes melodrama, drenching scenes in moody music and mountains of buildup. A lot of the time, it doesn’t even make much sense, like, for instance, Sharon Stone’s age in relation to Eric Roberts. It just tries way too hard. That said, The Specialist still manages to be a pretty entertaining movie.
Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, and Eric Roberts all deliver big time in this movie. Woods chews the crap out of the scenery, stealing every moment he is on the screen. His character is inexplicably cruel and evil. He’s an asshole that hates everybody and it’s an absolute joy to watch. There’s a rumor that Stallone was intimidated by Woods’ performance and it’s easy to see why. Supposedly, Stallone asked for some of Woods’ scenes to be recut since he felt that he stole too much of the movie. It’s not that Stallone isn’t good, because he does a fine job, but his character is more reserved and humorless. Woods severely overshadows him, there’s no doubt about it.
On the action front, The Specialist is solid. It takes a long time for the moments to happen, but when a bad guy finally does meet his explosive end it looks pretty good. Bodies fly in slow motion, covered in fire and debris. At the very least, The Specialist is not afraid to blow stuff up. Whole rooms are blown off the side of hotels, sending the bad guys crashing to their deaths. The real crime is that all that the bloated plot gets in the way of stuff blowing up.
The Specialist is also, somewhat strangely, intensely sexual. Stone and Stallone have a relationship that never scenes truly genuine, but they milk it for all it’s worth. Before they even meet, Stone leaves whispered and groaning messages for our hero. Stallone is constantly covered in sweat, his shirts clinging to his body. A sexy bomb squad cop makes eyes at James Woods. It’s uncomfortable to the point of being funny. I like Sylvester Stallone and James Woods a lot, but they are not the guys I want to see starring in a heavy erotic thriller.
This might all sound like a damning indictment, but The Specialist really is watchable trash. Stallone is engaging, as always, and James Woods is a real treat. There’s some fun stuff in this movie, from start to finish. After this flick, Stallone starred in Judge Dredd and his career would take decades regain the successful stride it had in the ’80s and early-’90s. And hey, if you are fan of drawn-out, slow-motion sex scenes that take place in a shower, this movie has a real doozy.