The Specialist is Stallone’s third highest-grossing movie at the box office in the 1990s — second overall to Cliffhanger — but it feels like a movie that no one likes. It was released as the Sharon Stone backlash was in full effect — she won Razzies for this film for worst actress and worst couple along with Stallone — and it’s the kind of 1990’s film that just doesn’t add up, thanks to unclear motivations and a murky plot. Luckily it has plenty of star power.
Ray Quick (Stallone) and Ned Trent (James Woods) once worked for the CIA until a mission to blow up a South American drug dealer led to the death of an innocent child. Now, Ray is a freelance hit man that takes only the missions that he cares about. He’s become an expert at shaping explosives, that is, killing only the target while leaving everyone else unharmed.
Probably the most likeable character in this movie is Ray’s cat Timer. The Maine Coon that plays this cat would return to work with Stallone again in Assassins. No, I didn’t make that up.
May Munro (Stone) is one of the people who needs his services. She’s supposed to be in her early twenties, despite Stone being 36 at the time. Just gloss over that. She’s been after Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts) for years, as he killed her parents. Instead of becoming Batman, she just calls Ray. For what it’s worth, he decides to take the job after seeing how hot she is. But she’s kind of a moron because she decides to get herself involved with Leon for some reason that’s never fully explained.
The magic of movies has placed Ned in the employ of Tomas’ father Joe (Rod Steiger, who deserves and knows better), the head of the Miami mafia. He runs the police, so he gets Ned on the bomb squad in an attempt to stop Ray from killing them all off. And somehow in the midst of all this mess, May has been forced to work with Ned to draw Ray out of hiding. If this all seems confusing, you should have been the one to watch this.
The whole point of this film isn’t even to get revenge, to be honest. It’s to get Stallone and Stone into bed together. That’s an admirable goal, I guess, but this is also a movie where the two leads pretty much have phone sex several times. It’s supposed to be sexy and flirty, but it comes off as masturbatory — no pun intended. Then again, this was the 90’s.
When asked about their shower scene in the film, Stallone shared perhaps too much: “OK. Let it be known, I didn’t want to do this scene because Sharon was not cooperating. We get to the set and she decides not to take her robe off. The director asks only a few of the crew to remain, and she still won’t take it off. I promised her I wouldn’t take any liberties, so what’s the problem? She said, “I’m just sick of nudity.” I asked her if she could get sick of it on someone else’s film. She was having none of it, so I went down to my trailer, brought back a bottle of Black Death vodka that was given to me by Michael Douglas and after half-a-dozen shots we were wet and wild.”
Director Luis Llosa would go on to direct Anaconda, so if you’d like to do a 90’s make no sense double feature, you should probably just have your own little miniature film fest of his work.