First Watch: Raw Deal (1986)

This “First Watch” review covers the 1986 action film Raw Deal starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Darren McGavin, Kathryn Harrold, and Sam Wanamaker. This movie was released in-between the blockbuster hits Commando and Predator. It was a flop at the box office, earning $16 million on a $8-$10 million budget, and receiving mainly poor reviews from critics. I thing Roger Ebert’s thoughts pretty much sum it the film:

“Raw Deal replaces absolutely everything – plot, dialogue, character, logic, sanity, plausibility, art, taste and style – with a fetish for nonstop action.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

My only previous experience with Raw Deal was seeing the movie poster, mainly on VHS and DVD covers over the years. I don’t ever remember coming across the movie on cable in the ’90s. I’ve seen it pop up on streaming services in recent years, as it did last night as I’m scrolling through Prime Video. Had I realized it also starred Darren McGavin (the “Old Man” in A Christmas Story) I definitely would have watched this sooner.

The Plot

Raw Deal tells the story of Mark Kaminski (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former FBI agent who was kicked out of the bureau for excessive brutality. He now works as a small-town sheriff in Wisconsin.

One day, Kaminski is approached by FBI agent Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin). Shannon’s son Blair, also an FBI agent, was recently killed in a mob hit. Shannon wants Kaminski to go undercover as an ex-con named Brenner and infiltrate the Chicago mob to avenge his son. In exchange, Shannon offers Kaminski’s potential return to the FBI.

Kaminski agrees to help Shannon. He infiltrates the Chicago mob led by ruthless and powerful gangster Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker.) Kaminski ends up working along side Patrovita’s muscle man, Frank Corelli (Robert Davi) and befriends a woman close to the mob family, Monique (Katherine Harrold.)

As Patrovita’s world starts to unravel, Kaminski must use all of his skills and training to survive the undercover assignment.

The Trailer


What I Liked

For an Arnold-driven action film/crime drama, I thought Raw Deal definitely fit the era and what you would expect to find in these types of films. There are plenty of shootouts, explosions, and a fun Jeep/motorcycle chase that ends in a great tongue-in-cheek moment. Nowadays, this definitely would have been sanitized as a PG-13 movie by removing the colorful language and blood in the shootouts. I think the bloody violence adds an edge to the movie, especially when Patrovita is slumped over his desk at the end.

There weren’t quite as many cheesy one-liners from Arnold as you would expect (which may dissuade fans to watch or re-watch.) Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed the film more without the them.

If there is one scene that just screamed Arnold, it’s the gear-up scene right before the final shootout. He preps by loading all his guns which were hidden in hanging garment bags in his closet. I thought that scene combined with the final shootout made it worth watching the film.

I really liked the supporting cast. I know Darren McGavin has played in many crime stories in his career going back to Kolchak in the ’70s, but I’ve never really explored his filmography. After seeing him in Raw Deal, I just may seek out some of his other similar roles.

Even though I wasn’t familiar with the actors who portrayed the two main mob guys, I was really glad to see Robert Davi (The Goonies, License to Kill) as the mob’s muscle man, Max Keller. He’s always played a great bad guy and I liked him as Kaminski’s rival in the mob family.

Two other supporting actors I enjoyed seeing were Joe Regalbuto (Murphy Brown, Street Hawk) and Ed Lauter. Regalbuto was great as the weaselly prosecutor Marvin Baxter. Lauter is one of those actors that you’ve seen play policeman and military types in many movies and shows over the years. He’s always been solid in that role and I liked him as FBI agent Baker.

What I Didn’t Like

I wish they would have setup the movie a little more with Kaminski’s back story with the FBI. It’s all revealed in one short conversation with Shannon, when he tries to recruit him for the mission. I know the movie takes place 5 years after the incident but something more (like a couple flashbacks) could’ve added more weight to Kaminski’s motivation to accept the vigilante mission.

It was really difficult, and somewhat laughable, that all it took to disguise a huge muscular former FBI agent from the mob was slick hair and fancy suits. You would think if Kaminski previously worked with Shannon out of the Chicago office, he’d still be recognized even after 5 years.

I was surprised at the ending. I really thought there would be a reunion moment with Kaminski and his wife Amy after faking his death, but instead they played up the pseudo father-son relationship with Kaminski and Shannon. The walking scene was too melodramatic for my taste. I think a simpler scene in the hospital showing that Shannon survived the earlier barrage would have sufficed.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed Raw Deal. I can see why it’s overshadowed from Arnold’s blockbusters. I can also see why critics put it through the ringer but going back to Ebert’s review, all it takes for a retro action movie fan to be entertained with Raw Deal is a bucket of popcorn.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Find me on Letterboxd. Read more First Watch reviews on The Retro Network.

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About Jason Gross 556 Articles
'80s Kid, '90s Grad, and '00s Dad. I've been writing and podcasting about 1980s pop culture since 2011 at my website. I collect vinyl, cassingles, '80s comics, Batman memorabilia, and all things Mobile Armored Strike Kommand.

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