Damaged Goods

Collateral Damage, held from its original October 2001 release date, seems dated in the post-September 11 world, but it would have felt passé and unnecessary regardless. It’s the sort of film Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris and their ilk cranked out on a near-monthly basis when Reagan was president. Those films were designed to make you feel good about being American, provided you didn’t think too much about the realities of global politics. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not alone when he talks about the need for Americans to see a bad dude go berserk on terrorists on the big screen now, but director Andrew Davis’ film unfortunately reminds us not just of recent events we’d like to put behind us but of like-minded movies that should also be forgotten. Worse, Schwarzenegger and Davis think they’re making a serious film.

Schwarzenegger plays a fireman named Gordie who watches his wife and son die in an embassy bombing carried out by Marxist, drug-running Colombian terrorists. It isn’t long before he is striding through the jungles of Colombia as though on a Stairmaster, ignoring admonitions that to do so is “frickin’ cracked.” Once in harm’s way, he plunges into a waterfall like The Fugitive (director Davis’ biggest hit), rigs up elaborate explosive devices from materials on hand MacGyver-style and attempts a James Bond-like seduction of his adversary’s wife.

As the object of his pursuit, El Lobo, character actor Cliff Curtis (you’ll recognize his face from Three Kings and Training Day) commits the sin of being absolutely generic. We know he is evil because he makes one of his men swallow a live poisonous snake and because he hangs pictures of Lenin on the walls.

Schwarzenegger appears to be taking acting lessons these days; if you can ignore the familiarly intrusive accent, he has recently turned in some of his most credible work, a trend that unfortunately correlates with a significant decline in the quality of scripts he chooses. (Collateral Damage also sports some creaky visual effects for which there are no excuses, given the four extra months Warner Bros. had to touch them up.) The often insufferable John Leguizamo, as comic relief, isn’t terrible, either, though his role amounts to little more than addressing Schwarzenegger as “jolly green giant” and “sour kraut.” John Turturro steals a scene or two by impersonating Harry Dean Stanton, but the major talent gap of the film lies with Francesca Neri (Hannibal), who, as El Lobo’s Caucasian supermodel of a wife, seems to think repeatedly batting her eyelids counts as acting.

Portraying the most believable character in the film is Crash‘s Elias Koteas. As a CIA agent making unsavory deals to try to protect the United States — even if it means screwing innocent people in the process — he’s the one element of the movie that feels absolutely timely.

Categories: Movies