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Eraser

When we think of Arnold Schwarzenegger we think of the TERMINATOR movies, PREDATOR, the CONAN movies, COMMANDO… movies that came out in years before, say, 1995. I don’t know if the crazy action/sexism combo of TRUE LIES used up everything he had, or if it was playing a pregnant man in JUNIOR that pushed him over, but by the time he made ERASER in ’96 the salad days were over. There was only some slimy lettuce left.

But I kinda enjoyed watching this one again. I’d say I like it better than THE SIXTH DAY, COLLATERAL DAMAGE and END OF DAYS (although that last one has more distinctive weirdness in it).

Schwarzenegger plays Detective John Eraser (actually, they call him “John Kruger,” but he’s credited just as “Eraser”), a U.S. Marshal who’s “the best there is” at hiding and protecting high value witnesses. In the opening scene a mob witness and his family are about to be executed when Eraser shows up, kills the attackers, makes the victims put their clothes on some dead bodies he stole from the morgue and blows up the house.

The first sign of his arrival at the house is like a slasher movie: one of the hitmen goes to the door, doesn’t see anything, then a cable comes down from above, loops around his neck and yanks him to the sky. Yep, this is from Chuck Russell, director of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 3: DREAM WARRIORS. Once he steps into the light we can see his eyes and know it’s Arnold, but he’s wearing a ninja mask, which seems to have the power to keep him from making wise cracks. A guy even asks him who he is and he doesn’t answer. Showing restraint (verbally only).

Then he whisks the witnesses out of there, leaving only a little trail of rubber flecks, like an eraser.

I never saw that Whitney Houston movie THE BODYGUARD, but I wonder if this is sort of the Arnold-ized version of that story. Eraser’s mission for the movie is to protect not the usual scumbag but Vanessa Williams, some kind of corporate computer lady who’s acquired proof that her boss (James Cromwell) is selling high tech superguns to terrorists. Nobody can be trusted, corporate or feds, because these superguns are awesome. So Eraser has to protect her from everybody who’s fighting over “10 tons of assault weaponry that aren’t supposed to exist.”

Eraser has two older mentor figures: James Caan and James Coburn, so I’m guessing one of them is actually gonna betray him. You know how these older mentor figures are. Just ask Ethan Hunt.

There’s a little moment of camaraderie I liked where they’re going into a house with gunmen in it and Caan shoots a guy that’s coming up behind Eraser. Eraser doesn’t say “I owe you one,” he just nods. Code for “I owe you one.”

These guns are described as “rail guns” that were previously cannon sized monsters on a battleship, now available in a convenient handheld model. They’re supposed to shoot really fast but they look cool because they leave a trail of CGI smoke rings. Their coolest feature is their x-ray vision scope. The bad guys watch skeletons walking through houses and can see their beating hearts to aim at. Not that precise aim is necessary with these motherfuckers.

Yeah, don’t sell these to terrorists, please. Or anyone.

The most spectacular action scene would have to be when shit goes bad on a private jet and Eraser’s parachute goes out the door. So he has to jump out of a plane, dodge a flaming engine, and chase after the parachute in mid-air. After accomplishing that unlikely task the bad guy points a gun at the pilot’s head and forces him to try to splatter Eraser on the windshield. This is just not a good day.

(what’s he gonna do, though, shoot the pilot?)

The scene has alot of phony looking digital effects, but it looks like there is some real skydiving footage mixed in there, so even though it looks faker than it would now it feels a little more organic than it might.

But everything feels a little small scale after that, and all of the action is weak compared to TRUE LIES. The other most memorable scene is when some alligators get loose during a shootout at the zoo. The CGI is better than I remembered, but it’s kinda silly how fast and hungry those bastards are.

I noticed something in this movie. While many action heroes have pets (McQuade and his lone wolf, The Specialist and his cat) Arnold only respects animals as much as he respects Richter, or anybody else he’d kill and make a joke to. Ninja mask rules don’t apply in this scene. He shoots the gator in the mouth and says, “You’re luggage.”

And later, as if to karmically repay him on behalf of the animal kingdom, some seagulls give away his location while he’s climbing above the docks where the weapons shipment is arriving or something. He has to do a flip, land behind two guys and grab them before they shoot him.

Perhaps feeling bad about what the seagulls did, a cat later distracts the x-ray scope and saves him. And some rats crawl by him while he’s sneaking under some floorboards, but they don’t do anything to him, signaling a new animal neutrality toward Eraser.

That scene actually has the greatest action scene moment. Eraser hides under the floor until some of his enemies stand above him, then he shoots them through the floor. The bullet holes weaken it enough that he can then tear through and emerge like a monster, pick up two of the rail guns (he’s Schwarzenegger, so he only needs one hand for each) and starts shooting all the other dudes. Doesn’t even need the x-ray.

The attempts to add quirky humor to the movie are not very strong. He disguises himself as a guy delivering balloons, it kinda felt like that part made more sense in an earlier draft. Later he gets a wacky sidekick in the form of a mobster he protected, played by Robert Pastorelli. (I kept thinking this guy was gonna betray him, then I remembered that was STRIKING DISTANCE.) This character and his mobster cousins seem more like criminals from a CROCODILE DUNDEE sequel than a real mob movie, and it’s corny how they’re just supposed to be lovable stereotypes who are willing to risk their lives to help the government out of machismo.

I kinda like Williams, but I don’t know why. She’s probly kinda bland in this movie, but I don’t know if it’s her fault or the character’s. She’s got a decent screen presence, but there have been better.

The music by Alan Silvestri is overdoing it sometimes. I mean, I appreciate the effort, but sometimes I wished the music would quit telling me what to do.

Russell is another one of these directors who showed some promise but didn’t do too much or get much credit. He was Frank Darabont’s writing partner turned director. He wrote DREAMSCAPE, directed the very influential DREAM WARRIORS, the underrated remake of THE BLOB, his last one was THE SCORPION KING, but that was 10 years ago. He did THE MASK also. I kinda doubt that holds up, but who knows.

ERASER sorta shows that maybe he should’ve stuck with lower budgets. He brings a little bit of wit to it but couldn’t match the spectacle makers Schwarzenegger had worked with like James Cameron, John McTiernan or Paul Verhoeven. Or maybe he just should’ve written it. But co-writer Walon Green had done some good ones: SORCERER, ROBOCOP… well, part 2. He wrote ZERO EFFECT and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. The TV pilot versions.

Okay, he wrote SORCERER though, that’s a good movie.

Anyway, ERASER’s okay. Perhaps wikipedia summed it up best: “The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Sound Effects Editing in 1996, but lost to THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS.”


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2012 at 12:14 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

52 Responses to “Eraser”

  1. I have a big soft-spot for Eraser, that used to play on TV all the time around here. I disagree about the action being weak, I mean it’s not True Lies and Terminator level, but certainly better than Running Man, Red Heat, and 6th Day. The rail-gun stuff is cool, the plane stunt is great, final fight is maybe a tad underwhelming cause James Caan stands no chance against Arnie realistically, but aside from that it’s good stuff. I think there’s also some really strong suspense scenes with Vanessa Williams’ character sneaking around, and I like the Silvestri score quite a bit (though it sounds a lot like the Long Kiss Goodnight score from that same year).
    As far as B-level Schwarzenegger pictures go, this one’s at the top of the list right next to Running Man for me.

  2. This was my first time I saw an Arnie film at the cinema, being finally old enough to get in, and I thought it rocked. Any film that begins with the fantastically absurd notion of Arnie doing acrobatic martial arts moves has already won me over. The plane sequence was the most spectacular action beat but I think that there are much better sequences; such as the heist scene midway through and the house assault where Arnie uses the fridge to avoid that awesome drill-bit bomb thing that sticks in his hand. Mind you the punchline to Arnie landing with the parachute in the scrapyard cracks me up every time.

    Shit, I think I prefer this to True Lies.

  3. Vern, SORCERER is a great movie, but Walon Green also wrote THE WILD BUNCH – the best movie ever made – so there’s definetively a “how the mighty has fallen” vibe to his work on ERASER. It’s not as right wing bullshitty as TRUE LIES, but I’ll rather watch END OF DAYS, THE 6TH DAY and COLLATERAL DAMAGE than ERASER.

  4. I think that this might have been the first, big CGI action movie. Whenever I watched it, it seemed to me like they tried to impress the audience with the use of computer effects. You know, I’m not against CGI and for its time, the effects were very cool, but thinking back at it, it seems like ERASER is filmhistorical relevant, just for “passing the torch” to a new generation of action movie. It still has an old school star, but it’s more related to the modern kind of film making.

  5. Thanks, Pegsman. I was gonna call Vern out on not mentioning THE WILD BUNCH. Vern, you have seen THE WILD BUNCH, right?

  6. Man I remember when they were making this movie, and how eagerly I was awaiting it’s release. I used to check my Leonard Maltin movie guide on a regular basis to see if a review of ERASER had magically popped up in the book. Of course, the only movie Maltin had written about with ERASER in the title was ERASERHEAD, so I checked that one out, thinking there might be some similarities. That movie warped my fragile little mind (I was 12), and I’ve been a Lynch fan since.

    I didn’t get to see ERASER until ut came out on VHS, and it was pretty disappointing. I still regard this as the dullest of Schwarzenegger pictures, but maybe I should give it another look. Hard to imagine I’ll end up liking this more than END OF DAYS, 6TH DAY or COLLATERAL DAMAGE though. I saw a few minutes of it on TV a few years ago, and it seemed every bit the mediocrity I remembered.

  7. Yeah, DREAM WARRIORS was hugely influential, wasn’t it? BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the entire attendent school of Young Adult fantasy / horror wouldn’t exist without it.

  8. it’s too bad TRUE LIES was Arnold’s last great movie, but in my opinion it was a heck of a sendoff, I love that movie…

  9. I always liked Eraser (and The 6th Day, too) as they seemed liked big budget “Arnold cannon” movies that just weren’t as strong. I mean, Commando is tough to top in the rising-body-count quip genre.

    But I love Caan in this, he makes a great smug villain and looks the part, his bow-legged swagger down the airplane giving him away as much as the evil friendly smile.

    The final dock shoot out and battle on top of the container make it hard to believe you think it petered out after the airplane escape. I need my mayhem lol.

    And sorry pegsman, Animal House was the best movie ever made.

  10. Okay, so I don’t really remember Collateral Damage and The 6th Day, but I definitely like End of Days more than I like one, I don’t like True Lies either, so not sure how this one compares to that one.

  11. Even back then the effects looked shit I mean this was years after T2 and Russell’s own THE MASK. I only saw this movie once and that was during it’s theatrical run. I remember being into it UP until the point where Arnold goes through the jet engine in that phony looking stunt Vern described and then not long after we have him shooting the also aforementioned cartoon crocodiles and delivering horrible one liners like “you’re luggage”. It just became an exercise in mediocrity and I like silly and preposterous as much as the next guy but even for 13 year old me that shit was too stupid. Alas that’s the legacy of ERASER to me.

  12. I like COLLATERAL DAMAGE better cause it feels more old school and practical while ERASER seem to try too hard to be “hip” to the point of casting a pop sensation when she was already past her prime.

  13. I think that Collateral Damage is probably the worst action movie that he headlined. It’s boring, which is an unforgivable sin. I quite dig End Of Days, as it is as Ven says, really weird. I will need to see The 6th Day again as I don’t really remember anything apart from Michael Rooker getting his foot blown off.

  14. *Vern not Ven.

  15. COLLATERAL DAMAGE is nowhere near as bad as RAW DEAL and END OF DAYS was actually the one that bored me. I remember sneaking into that one right after I had seen TOY STORY 2 and enjoyed the cartoon better even though I looked forward to Arnie Vs. Satan a lot more than I ever did TS2. It just didn’t really deliver on the potential though Gabriel Byrne was pretty awesome.

  16. The 6th Day is the only Arnold movie between True Lies and Terminator 3 that I’ve seen and ehhhhhhhhhh, it was pretty forgettable, could have been a lot better

    the funniest moment is when Arnold is riding in the back of a cab with a robot girl who wont shut up and he says “can’t you see that I am talking?”

  17. I consider ERASER to be the last truly fun Schwarzenegger action flick (not counting Ex2).

    Broddie – How can you say you like silly and preposterous but hate the airplane and crocodile scenes in this film? That’s like saying you like awesome but you hate the street shootout in HEAT.

  18. Mike A – It’s called execution and in this movie it was executed pretty poorly. Which is a shame considering the talent behind it. Russell has put some of the greatest silly shit I ever seen on film in other movies like his ELM STREET or THE BLOB.

  19. Sorry, I guess I didn’t look at Walon Green’s filmography closely enough. That would’ve been the one to mention.

  20. Walon Green was also the writer John Frankeheimer brought aboard to polish the script for ISLAND OF DR MOREAU. He also won an oscar for a documentary he directed. But THE WILD BUNCH will forever remain the highlight of his filmography. SORCERER is awesome though, and really hope Friedkin’s lawsuit leads to an eventual re-issue. Till then, I can always rewatch WAGES OF FEAR.

  21. I like ERASER. Even that luggage line cracks me up, even if Vern didn’t like it.

    I do think it’s odd how Arnold is randomly inserted into a bland part that so many could’ve played, but still a solid Arnold vehicle, the last one worth seeing IMO.

    Oh and END OF DAYS sucks. Yikes.

  22. It’s funny how in 1992 Arnold was the star of the movie that really set the blueprint for the big summer action movies of the 90s, had another big hit in 94, and then by 1996 it was all starting to pass him buy.

    The less said about what he got up to in 1997 the better…

  23. This is probably the best of Arnie’s more forgettable B grade flicks he made during the late 90’s through the early 00’s. For better or worse the luggage line is probably the most memorable part of the movie.

  24. Personally, this is my favorite post-True Lies film. Not saying much I know.

  25. *post-True Lies Arnold film I mean.

  26. http://youtu.be/T6oi5O8PWP0

    It’S the THE LAST STAND trailer!!! And I think it looks like a lot of fun!

  27. Not too impressed because I expected Arnold to be a little Clintish but it’s just Arnold (with the lighthearted quips) but old. I will see it off the strength of Kim Ji-woon though. Plus it has The Guzman and Peter Stormare so it should have some interesting character moments.

  28. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie turns out to be mostly a meditational drama about aged heroes, with some short action beats. I mean, that director isn’t really known for fun action movies like the one, that the trailer promises.

  29. I actually wouldn’t mind that. It’s the direction I’d like to see Arnold take in his twilight years and the one I feel Sly should’ve also taken like he did in RAMBO.

  30. I think THE TOMB will also deal with the tribulations of being an older badass in the 21st century, at least I hope it does. I don’t want to see Sly or Arnold running around with guns anymore unless it’s in THE EXPENDABLES. I want them to be more like Lee Marvin and Bronson now and prove to the naysayers that it was always their on screen presence and charisma that carried them through not their muscles. Age ain’t nothing but a number; anybody with the right amount of scars could still style on the youngins.

  31. *automatic guns

  32. “This character and his mobster cousins seem more like criminals from a CROCODILE DUNDEE sequel than a real mob movie”
    To be fair Vern, the Colombians in CDII were pretty cold blooded customers, and one of them was played by Benicio Del Toro.

  33. What do the fine folks around here think of Last Action Hero? It’s a complete mess but I really dig it, it’s Arnie’s Hudson Hawk, and I love Hudson Hawk.

    Broddie – I haven’t yet seen Raw Deal, I shall have to check it out. I’ve not heard great things though which is probably why I never bothered.

  34. Any yeah End Of Days certainly does not live up to the potential of Arnie Vs Satan, but Arnie Vs Miriam Margoyles is a classic scene.

  35. I love LAST ACTION HERO. Fucking hate HUDSON HAWK though.

  36. DirkD13 – RAW DEAL is boring for the most part but it does have a kick ass climatic revenge shootout and it also has the distinction of being the first movie here Arnold played a small town sheriff. So THE LAST STAND has some precedent.

  37. LAST ACTION HERO is great because it was made for kids like me who grew up on Arnold movies since that’s who the main character was. It had the right bits of homage, parody and sincerity that you would expect from something by Arnold or McTiernan at the time.

    Too bad most people just wanted another shoot em up or something more post-modern like what we would get if there was a LAST ACTION HERO made today. We got something that didn’t necessarily try to deconstruct the action genre just pay it tribute and embrace it’s zaniness and IMO it payed off. Talking detective cartoon cat and all.

  38. It’s okay, Vern. Like many other composers who used to do great work, Alan Silvestri has heard the complaints and has stopped putting in the effort it takes to create memorable melodies like in Eraser and Predator. Nowadays his music is just percussion loops and chords and sounds like 99% of the rest of the dog shit that passes for film music.

  39. I really liked his work on the Captain America movie, particularly the theme:

    No idea why JJ Abrams seems to be conducting that.

  40. Uh, I used the html embed. No idea why it’s not showing up…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srnxYb-hbK8

  41. This is the only post True Lies Arnold movie I actually like. I won’t even sit here and try to convince anyone it’s a good movie because it’s not. It’s basically a guilty pleasure with some terrible cgi(those crocs were really bad) and some good action. It seems like it’s trying to please long time Arnold fans while also trying to bring in younger fans with a more serious tone then Arnold’s movies after T2. It’s not a classic in any way but a good time waster more on the scale of Red Heat.

  42. Any of you guys wanna know about The Last Stand? They screened it earlier this week…

  43. marlow – yeah, it’s bizarre how in the early 90’s Arnold still felt right at home, but less than a decade later he felt woefully out of place

    but the 90’s in general is kind of a weird decade when you think about how it’s split into two totally unique halves, the early 90’s had a lot of cultural hangover from the 80’s (it almost feels like a “sequel” to the 80’s in a way), but in just about two short years in the mid 90’s everything 80’s was thrown out the window, by 1997 the 80’s was totally dead

    maybe that was why in the 2000’s (and today) people gained a strong nostalgia for the 80’s since they abandoned it so quickly and even some 80’s cultural attitudes returned (but unfortunately they were the “greed is good” mentality and the “America FUCK YEAAAAAAAAAAAAH” foreign policy)

    P.S. I also like Last Action Hero for the most part, but in my opinion it was True Lies that managed to be the best post Terminator 2 Arnie movie since it was a perfect blending of new (ironic humor) and the old (kickass action)

    plus, uhhhhhhh Jamie Lee Curtis actually gave me one of my first boners during her striptease scene

  44. Did someone just say that the director of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD isn’t known for light and fun action films? Because, he is. The Last Stand is extremely goofy. But goofy in a distinctly Korean way, which I appreciated. It’s also a very hard-R. Unfortunately, most of the action takes place in mid and close shots, so the geography sucks. Also, there is literally more character development in the synopsis than there is in the film. We *never* see Arnold as an LA cop. I don’t think they even mention his past experience in the movie.

    Everyone does have a different accent in the film though, which I thought was funny. Race is very foregrounded. Like, when the big baddie escapes police custody (with the aid of a giant magnet attached to a rooftop), the villains distract the police by sending out twenty guys dressed in orange jumpsuits. We see Forest Whittaker interrogating one. This is the movie’s best scene. You see, the perp is maybe Chinese, maybe Filipino, maybe Latino, You cannot tell, at all. (He’s also weirdly androgynous.) He speaks Spanish through a translator and explains that he’s dressed in orange because he was out jogging at 4 am in his the colors of his favorite soccer team: Holland. Whittaker gets all mad and demands to know what you call people from Holland. Then, the perp snaps out of his Spanish-speaking schtick and tells Whittaker to fuck off, in a thick New York accent. He explains that he was, ‘barely speaking Spanish” a moment ago. It’s a great beat.

    Also, in the end, Arnold gets a fun one-liner where he tells the baddie, “You give us immigrants a bad name.”

    Overall, kinda mediocre. There are no stakes. If the bad guy gets across the boarder then…he continues to do poorly defined evil, or something. Arnold has nothing to win or lose. And if he just stood aside, or better yet, threw up a SINGLE spike strip for the villain’s car, dozens of lives would have been saved and the town not destroyed.

  45. Sorry Stu, embeds in comments require either WordPress.com hosting or a plugin. Until I switch hosting providers (again) we’re having too many performance issues to add another plugin right now I’m afraid.

  46. I wouldn’t call Eraser a good film, exactly, but I do remember catching it on cable once or twice and it carried me along for a half hour or so. The film goes down easy.

    I’m kind of interested in The Last Stand. It does look like it maintains some of the goofiness that Kim Jee-Woon brought to The Good the Bad and the Weird. At best, he manages to meld a Korean sensibility with an American budget. At worst, it will be a tonal mess, but an interesting one.

  47. Broddie, if we forget about THE DELTA FORCE (which we all should do anyway) I guess Marvin went out like an older statesman. But Bronson ran around with big guns, beating up guys half his age, until the bitter end. Why deny Sly and Arnie the same retirement plan?

  48. Nice review Vern.

    I always thought of ERASER as the beginning of Arnold’s tamed down PG-13 era, but I guess it turns out it was an R-rated flick. I haven’t seen it since it came out, maybe it’s time to revisit.

  49. Jareth Cutestory

    August 17th, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Elder stateman indeed. The first film I ever saw Lee Marvin in was GORKY PARK when I was a teenager. I don’t know how well the film has held up, but at the time I was bowled over by the gravity and low-key menace Marvin brought to that performance.

  50. The Original... Paul

    August 17th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I quite liked this the first time I saw it. The second time I went back and watched it, I was a little disappointed, but I still think it has its charm. I don’t know what the heck James Caan is doing in this movie though. Apparently he thinks he’s Nick Cage (hint: he’s not.) I do love his death in the epilogue, even though I grant people’s problems with the method of it; still, just having the villain think he’s got away clean and then pulling that one seemed absurdly satisfying. Much more so than if Arnie had just shot him or something.

    I also love how Arnie picks up two of the villains’ superweapons and duel-wields them. Now that was pretty damn awesome if you ask me. As is the crocodile fight. I think the reason it’s so cool and works so well is, as Vern said, because it’s a little silly. There’s no way anybody should be able to get away with this absurdity, but somehow Arnie does; plus the one liner, and Arnie’s delivery of it, is just a classic Arnie moment, love it or hate it. For me it’s up there with the breakfast line from “Commando”.

    The only thing that I really hate about this movie, though, is the scene with the priest. For one thing, as an atheist, I find the sudden (and totally out-of-the-blue – it’d be more excusable if this was the main theme of the movie, but it’s not even close) implication that you need a man of God to provide you with a moral compass – which is basically what I took from it – to be incredibly patronising to the audience. It treats us like idiots. (This in a movie where a guy fights a giant crocodile in a restaurant.) For another thing, it’s totally out of place. I mean, this is ten minutes before Arnie fights off a freakin’ army by duel-wielding two plasma rifles. Sure, there’s a place for moral reflection in a movie like this, but not delivered in this way!

    So yeah… hate that one scene. But overall I still enjoy the movie, flawed though it is. My one major gripe with it is that the villain is really weak. If they wanted a Nic Cage villain, they should’ve got Nic Cage. And hell, I loved James Caan in many, many films (mostly “Rollerball”-type roles though, and he was the “straight man” in that film). But he cannot do this kind of thing and pull it off, at all.

  51. This was probably a pivotal moment in my life when I realized a Nicolas Cage movie could be awesomer than an Arnold movie (THE ROCK came out weeks earlier.) It’s a decent Arnold movie and probably the last summer worthy generic one. I quite like SIXTH DAY though.

    Something about that plane sequence doesn’t quite connect with me like it should. I think there’s maybe one or two too few events in it. Compared to POINT BREAK, TERMINAL VELOCITY, DROP ZONE, or the opening of MOONRAKER.

    Love seeing all the TRUE LIES love here!

    Hey Vern, you ever see T2 3D at Universal?

  52. ooh, I’ve seen T2 3D! it’s kind of dated by today’s standards, but still pretty cool

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