In the movie RED (2010) I heard some phrase I didn't understand at all. So, an armed FBI team is getting ready to attack main characters (MC) who have been taken a guy (TG) to extort some secrets from him. A dialogue following:

  • TG: Are you gonna let me talk to them? I can negotiate something.
  • MC: Thanks, when we want your help, we'll get out the drain cleaner.

I don't get it at all. Why it's "the" drain cleaner, because it wasn't any before in the movie. I guess this is some kind of joke, bot it seems to hard for me to understand.

  • If they want to use some horrible method involving torture (drain cleaner is a poison and also dissolves materials), they'll call that guy. It means they are not planning to use brutal methods.
    – Lambie
    Jan 18 '17 at 19:16
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    Haven't seen the movie, but I understood it to mean, "if we reach the point where we need your help—when we get that desperate—suicide would be a more attractive option for us." The drain cleaner would be for themselves. Jan 18 '17 at 20:56
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    Could it just mean that the only time they would need the person's help is if they had to unclog a drain?
    – verbose
    Jan 18 '17 at 23:57

Drain cleaner is a caustic substance that can cause horribly painful internal damage if swallowed. The main character is threatening torture by either putting it on a sensitive part of they guy's body or by forcing him to ingest it.

I can't tell without more context but it's meant as a kind of "black humor" since the main character probably wouldn't do that. Although (depending on which character) you never know. John Malkovich's character was definitely a "loose cannon"

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