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COLLATERAL DAMAGE(director: Andrew Davis; screenwriters: David Griffiths & Peter Griffiths; cinematographer: Adam Greenberg; editors: Dennis Virkler/Dov Hoenig; music: Graeme Revell; cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Gordon Brewer), Cliff Curtis (Claudio ‘The Wolf’ Perrini), Elias Koteas (Peter Brandt), Francesca Neri (Selena Perrini), John Leguizamo (Felix Ramirez), John Turturro (Sean Armstrong), Miguel Sandoval (Special Agent Joe Phipps), Shelley Malil (Doctor); Runtime: 110; Warner Brothers; 2002)
“There’s nothing special about this action flick, except how subpar it all seems and how tired it looks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This clich√©-riddled film clearly answers what is the difference between Arnold and the terrorist who killed his wife and son, as the terrorist says to the fireman confronting him: “Seems like we’re both willing to kill for a cause.” Arnold replies in his robotic tone, “The difference is, I’m just gonna kill you.” There you have it, that’s the film’s deepest message about terrorism. It did at one point in its story, try to make a point that the aims of both the C.I.A. and the terrorists are tarnished, since the C.I.A. wants to use the grieving Arnold as bait while the terrorists want to take him as a hostage for ransom.

This is another formula nonthinking ‘Don’t mess with Arnold flick.’ Arnold has aged considerably more than his age of 54 would indicate, and even more since his heart attack in the 1990s. He’s now a dinosaur playing the same action-hero roles he did as a young man; but, he looks tired, not physically up to the demanding action work. He is not humorous, has no flip one-liners to offer, and is not his usual self-effacing self in his ‘savior of the world’ role. He looks and talks more like a future Bush/Reagan Republican aspiring to an elective office rather than one honing his undeveloped acting skills. This by the numbers action pic is another step in his downward slide toward filmdom mediocrity. You could almost say, turn out the lights the party is over for him as an action-hero icon! At best this is an average actioner if you overlook the numerous plot-holes, the ridiculous story line, and the trite dialogue. It is predictable and irrelevant; but, like junk food in a fast-food place, it could tempt a hungry traveller when stranded on the road with no other choices.

L.A. firefighter Gordy Brewer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) loses his loving wife and child in a Colombian terrorist bombing in L.A. and wants justice. Hearing the terrorist spokesman on TV say that his innocent wife and child were just collateral damage, sparks the fireman to wreck their party headquarters. When the government agents, Special Agent Joe Phipps (Miguel Sandoval) and CIA agent Peter Brandt (Elias Koteas), offer no answers and the Senate calls Brandt’s covert ‘war against drugs’ operation off for political reasons, he takes matters into his own hands and flies down himself to the homeland of the Colombian terrorist, Claudio ‘The Wolf’ Perrini (Cliff Curtis). He’s an angry, humorless man willing to do anything to exact revenge on the baddies. Brandt is a double-dealing agent, who has a different agenda in Colombia than helping Arnold get vengeance. But when he sees Arnold in Colombia, he monitors his activities and attempts to use him as a pawn for what he wants to gain in Colombia–to equate the terrorists with the drug traffickers (by accident the film got right one of the themes now being used against the terrorists).

The controversy over the film’s terrorist plot caused the studio to withhold its scheduled opening for the fall of 2001, after 9/11, figuring Americans were not ready for such fiction after being stunned with the reality of a real terrorist tragedy. Writers David and Peter Griffiths should have used the time to rewrite the weak story and rework the ludicrous ending, while director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive/Chain Reaction) should have at least tried to make the film less of an Arnold fest in unbelievable one-man heroics. He should have done it in the name of team play, as a tribute to the unheralded NYFD heroes whose names many of us will never know yet their heroic deeds will always be remembered. This is an exploitive film aimed at cashing in on the new wave of terrorism and it should have had the decency not to dishonor genuine heroism with such a phony display of unreal heroism.

On Arnold’s unauthorized mission to Colombia, he is prepared for the mission by a military expert who is a friend of Arnold’s firefighter friend. Arnold lands in Panama and secretly travels alone through the Colombian jungle while being chased by both the police and the terrorists. After he unknowingly befriends The Wolf’s attractive wife Selena (Neri) and their young boy in the street and is captured by the police in the middle of a shootout with the guerrillas, he shares a jail cell with a small-time Canadian hustler, Sean Armstrong (Turturro). He is a mechanic for a terrorist cocaine drug lord; and, when the guerrillas raid the police station to capture Arnold for ransom, Arnold frees them both and gets Sean to give him a pass into the guerrilla’s cocaine processing plant. To add some lame attempts at comedy, John Leguizamo plays the happy-go-lucky drug lord, Felix Ramirez. He’s in charge of the cocaine production but he really aspires to be a rap singer.

While in the guerrilla’s turf, Arnold saves the wife and child of The Wolf from a bomb he planted in his compound. As a result he becomes a captive of the terrorist. To escape from his captors he bites and spits out a terrorist’s ear, and then The Wolf’s wife frees him in payment for saving her life previously. He seems to have substituted the terrorist’s family for his lost wife and boy.

Arnold rewires the cocaine factory to explode with the ease of an experienced C.I.A. field operative, and tries to escape as the police in a surprise raid swoop down and kill everyone but The Wolf. Arnold’s caught by Brandt, but he talks his way back to D.C. along with Selena and her boy. He tells the truculent Brandt that she knows where her husband is going to plant a bomb in Washington.

In the film’s last 25 minutes Arnold really goes to work on his heroics. In the Dulles Building, a place filled with CIA and FBI people, he’s the one who singlehandedly foils the terrorist plan to bomb that building. There’s a surprise twist in the end, but the climax is too lame and not suspenseful to add anything but more grimness to a downbeat film.

The film had numerous ripoff scenes from other films; such as, villains who come back to life, a man outrunning a fireball, and Arnold escaping the police by jumping into a waterfall (ala The Fugitive). There’s nothing special about this action flick, except how subpar it all seems and how tired it looks.

REVIEWED ON 2/14/2002 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”