Here’s how star Arnold Schwarzenegger describes the film : “It’s an action movie. Colombian guerillas attack a motorcade in Los Angeles that has the Colombian ambassador inside. They blow up the motorcade and at the same time my family gets killed, which is called collateral damage, it’s a military term. I go to Colombia to try and find who was responsible and I find myself in a big mess with death squads, the right-wing militia, guerillas, terrorists and drug-lords.” Shit Negro, that’s all you had to say! Damn, what more do you need to know? This little summary is bound to whet the appetite of any Ah-nuld enthusiast. I mean, religious fanatics and clones are alright, but what best than some good old guerilla and drug-lord killing, Schwarzenegger style! The tragic events of September 11, 2001 made some question the validity of using such a serious issue as terrorism in popular entertainment, and the movie has been shelved for four months while the suits wondered about it. I understand the heightened sensibility but come on. If anything, it’s just cathartic to watch terrorists getting their asses kicked!
Unfortunately, “Collateral Damage” doesn’t really pay off, not even on the basic pleasure of watching everybody’s favorite Austrian bodybuilder bringing in the pain. I don’t know if it’s because of the Twin Towers attacks, but the film has too many serious undertones to work as kill-em-all popcorn cinema. But even according to the old escapist standards, the flick doesn’t deliver. Is it the big oak’s fault? Is he getting too old for this shit, can’t he measure up to Vin Diesel, his apparent successor? I mean, I’m a huge Arnold fan; both his “Commando” and “Predator” would make my all time favorites list, for chrissakes! And even in his not that hot movies, he always managed to make me grin a few times with his signature mix of smirking almost-wit and brutality.
Maybe the problem is in the director’s chair, then. After all, Andrew Davis is nothing but a not-so-glorified hack, “The Fugitive” aside. He’s technically competent, I guess, but his film never truly connects. It got off to a good start, though. It opens with fireman Gordon Brewer (Schwarzenegger’s character) doing his thing in a blazing fire, followed by a few shots establishing his loving relationship with his wife and son and then, with the opening titles barely over, BOOM!, his family is blown up during a terrorist attack. Devastated, Gordon watches as political types stumble in all the red tape until he decides he’ll only see justice if he takes it into his own hands. So before you know it he’s in the Colombian jungle, on the track of guerilla fighter El Lobo (Cliff Curtis)…
Brewer is a desperate man with nothing to lose, but he’s not quite on his own. He’s surrounded with a pretty enjoyable cast of character actors including Elias Koteas as a badass CIA agent, Coen favourite John Turturro as a sleazy mechanic and John Leguizamo as an exuberant drug lord. Good enough, now all Davis needs to do is set up a bunch of cool action scenes, but he can’t even do that right. Oh, we get a few shoot-outs, a lot of Arnold running, stuff blowing up and Davis aping the waterfall jump/escape from his “Fugitive” movie, but it’s all done in a generic, straight-to-video way. There’s a neat little scuffle in a hut where Arnold pulls a Mike Tyson, and the “Arlington Road”-like twist in the last act gives the film a sense of urgency, at last. Yet it’s too little too late, and “Collateral Damage” is bound to be remembered (if at all) as one of Schwarzenegger’s lesser vehicles.