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Collateral Damage   D

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Andrew Davis
Writers: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, John Leguizamo, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, Jsu Garcia, Tyler Garcia Posey, John Turturro.

Review by Rob Vaux

In a strange, sick way, Collateral Damage caught a break from the events of September 11. Had it come out oh, say, last August, its failure would have been routinely noted and dismissed. But now, those flaws become obscured by history, its cartoon-terrorist plot overshadowed by real-life monsters. We can explain it away as a victim of circumstance. After all, the filmmakers couldn't have possibly anticipated how much the world would change in the past four months. We shouldn't hold their fluffy movie accountable, right?

Wrong. Bad is bad, and Collateral Damage stinks no matter when you see it. This kind of film went out of vogue about the time Bill Clinton took office; it felt dated even before Schwarzenegger's star took a precipitous fall. It's the relic of a bygone age, sealed under glass and preserved well past its expiration date. If you listen closely, you can still hear it screaming.

Schwarzenegger plays an LA firefighter whose wife and family are killed in a terrorist bombing. The suspect, a mysterious Latino known only as (sic) "El Lobo," passed right in front of his eyes moments beforehand. So while the CIA struggles with peacemongering Senators, Arnie heads down to Columbia to kick some ass. Except he doesn't kick ass, not really. Instead, he makes some pathetic efforts to "blend" in, wears a Panama hat really badly, and builds cut-rate MacGuyver gadgets intended to snuff out the brutal villain. Presumably the filmmakers did this to show how "normal" Arnold's character is, but normal just doesn't apply to the man. That's still the Teutonic Terminator up there, and his cloak-and-dagger antics ultimately come off as self-conscious and artificial. It's frustrating watching him construct a bomb when you really just want him to kick down the door and start twisting counterrevolutionaries into meat pretzels.

That might be forgivable if the action and mayhem were executed competently, but Collateral Damage fails miserably in that department. Dialogue sequences go on too long, key details are left unexplained, and the set pieces suffer from bad pacing and awful special effects. The film climaxes with a scene so jaw-dropping in its ludicrousness that even Schwarzenegger can't make it work. Even more distressing than this borderline incompetence is the fact that the filmmakers remained blissfully unaware of it all. They actually seem to think that they're being clever, tossing off plot twists and red herrings with no regard to whether they make sense or not. It's hard to remember that director Andrew Davis was the same guy who made The Fugitive.

Naturally, one should expect a little cartoonishness in a Schwarzenegger flick. Stark verité was never the big guy's strong suit after all. But what dooms Collateral Damage is not its preposterous storyline turns, its fork-and-spoon characterization, or even its unimaginative action sequences, but its assumption that it has something more worthwhile to offer. On one hand, it tries to offer us fierce modern espionage in the Tom Clancy vein; on the other, it gives us broadly painted characters clearly stamped as stereotypes. The two halves constantly get in each other's way, making it impossible to enjoy the film on either level. You get the sense that this film started out as a gritty techno-thriller, only to morph into something much more bloated when Arnold came on board. It might have benefited from sticking to its guns, but even then, it would have been a tough sell.

A few bright spots emerge. The female lead (Francesca Neri) has a nice presence, and a slumming John Turturro steals the show for the 10 minutes he's on the screen. They should have found a better project to spend their time on. Schwarzenegger is not going gracefully into old age, and Collateral Damage only confirms the fact that his brand of filmmaking no longer cuts the mustard. If you're going to change, big fella, you have to change all the way. This go-around gets caught in the middle of the highway and ends up roadkill. Collateral Damage got a lot of press when the studio rightly decided to delay its release. Next time, guys, just leave it on the shelf.

Review published 02.11.2002.

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