As has been widely reported, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, "Collateral Damage," was the biggest cinema casualty following the events of September 11. Originally scheduled to be released the same month, it was promptly yanked from the September lineup due to its terrorism storyline. Finally being released, the film undeniably does evoke the tragedy that befell the nation five months ago, which wouldn't necessarily be a negative thing were the picture not so preposterous and exploitative.
Los Angeles firefighter Gordon Brewer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) couldn't be happier. He values his profession, has a warm relationship with his wife (Lindsay Frost), and a precocious young son. His entire world changes in an instant when he witnesses his family killed in a ruthless act of terrorism, and later discovers that he was the only one that saw the face of the man responsible for it just seconds before it happened. The Colombian-based terrorist is nicknamed "The Wolf" (Cliff Curtis), and when the CIA fails to hunt him down, Gordon makes the journey to Colombia himself, risking his own life to avenge the nine innocent people murdered in the explosion.
Directed by Andrew Davis (1993's "The Fugitive"), "Collateral Damage" is a dreary, depressing revenge drama that bypasses a thoughtful approach to its very serious subject matter in preference for one ridiculous plot development after the next. Seeing a single man travel into enemy territory to hunt down the evil terrorist who took his wife and child from him is maddening, even for a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (1999's "End of Days
"). The film, despite a few token action sequences, goes past the point of fantasy to a plain where director Davis and screenwriters David Griffiths and Peter Griffiths not only hold their audience in contempt, but talk down to them. It isn't fun being jerked around for the sake of a mindless two hours when the material deserves a more fair treatment.
Following a mildly arresting first 30 minutes where Gordon deals with his awful loss, few mentions are ever made again about his family, as "Collateral Damage" tries to have its cake and eat it too. The middle section, concerning Gordon's experiences in Colombia, is plodding, at best. Very little of interest occurs (save for a tremendous drop down a set of waterfalls), as it only serves as a means to reaching its action-packed climax (set in Washington, D.C.).
The finale regains some of the momentum of the first act, but it is all in exchange for an unforgiving twist in which a key character goes against everything we have previously learned about them and switches sides. No attempt is made to deal with the moral implications that arise from this idiotic plot turn, making it all the more off-putting.
Except for Schwarzenegger, in another typically unextraordinary performance, the cast is outrageously wasted. Francesca Neri (2001's "Hannibal
") has a couple competent scenes as Selina, the long-suffering wife of "The Wolf" who decides to help a captured Gordon escape, but the character isn't treated with the respect she should have been. As for Elias Koteas (2001's "Novocaine
"), as CIA agent Peter Brandt; John Turturro (2001's "The Man Who Cried"), as a Colombian cell mate Gordon meets when he is put in jail for having no passport; and John Leguizamo (2001's "Moulin Rouge
"), as a drug trafficker, whatever they were initially attracted to in this project is not evident in the finished product.
If Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to start making movies with more humane undercurrents, that is all well and good. Before he does this, however, he should learn the difference between honesty and manipulation. As the end credits begin to roll on "Collateral Damage," don't be too surprised if you have already forgotten what Gordon's whole motivation was for tracking down "The Wolf" in the first place. The filmmakers certainly did.
©2002 by Dustin Putman