Collateral Damage (2003) Movie Review

The new Ahnuld movie “Collateral Damage” can be said to be an accidental but nevertheless a victim of circumstance. The film was supposed to be released a few months after the tragedy of 9/11, but was postponed because the contents of the movie were eerily similar to the circumstances of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington. Pushed all the way back to 2002, “Damage” came out to little fanfare and although its star heavily pushed the film on talk shows, there was conspicuously little promotion for the film in other media outlets. It’s no surprise then that the majority of people I talked to didn’t even know Schwarzenegger had come out with a new movie.

Of course it could also be explained that maybe people did know about the movie, but just didn’t bother with it because they thought it was the same-o same-o. And they would be right. “Collateral Damage” gives us nothing we haven’t seen before from Arnold, who plays Gordon Brewer, a hero fireman who turns into the unstoppable Terminator after his wife and son are killed in a bomb set by a terrorist called the Wolf. When Gordon realizes the U.S. Government has not only given up on tracking down the Wolf, but is actually succumbing to his demands, Gordon is none too please.

“Damage” brings Arnold back to Everyman territory, and it works. Arnold the person is now in his early ’50s and is but a shell of his former glory days. The facial lines are there, the movement is a little slower, and there are more limitations on physical stunts. This in light of the fact that the Gordon character has to leap fireballs, rivers, and army after army of guerillas with AK-47s. Arnold is not the young man he once was, but that all seems perfectly fitting here. Arnold’s Gordon is so Everyman that he doesn’t even touch a gun! Not once in the entire movie! (Although I think Gordon did wrestle with one character as both men clutched onto a machinegun…)

“Damage” is directed by Andrew Davis (“Under Siege”) and the film has that glossy, expensive Hollywood look. The fireballs and explosions and gun squibs are all very pretty to look at. Since this is an Arnold movie, there are plenty of sidekicks by famous faces. John Turturro and John Leguizamo show up in bit parts. The film is quite funny and lively when those two men are onscreen to crack wise and either help or hinder our hero as he goes on his quest for revenge. Leguizamo, in particular, plays a drug dealer who is actually quite likeable.

The Griffiths, who wrote “Damage,” has obviously tried to inject some politics into the story. When Gordon arrives in Columbia to seek his vengeance, the screenplay delves into the political climate of the country, and how both the guerillas and the American-back nationalist government (including a large helping of CIA spooks led by Elias Koteas) are doing their fair share to send the country straight to hell and terrorize its people. Neither the guerillas, who makes deals with cocaine dealers to fund their war, nor the cops who stops everyone on the street and shoots anyone suspected of being a guerilla, are angels. In that way, the film does earn some points. A more conspiracy-minded person might even say that the screenplay posits a belief that the CIA is the actual culprit behind all of Columbia’s problems.

Arnold’s Gordon is of course the heart of the film, and he does a very fine job. The older Arnold doesn’t favor guns, but cunning and a large helping of luck, which comes in handy because Gordon doesn’t just get into scraps, he ends up in the middle of wars! Throughout the film Gordon is quite vulnerable, clearly not the superman Arnold is used to playing. Besides his avoidance of guns, Gordon is also an ex-bomb maker, so that means he rigs up some pretty nifty explosive devices to take out the bad guys. Just because he doesn’t shoot people doesn’t mean he can’t blow them up, natch.

Eventually “Collateral Damage” reveals itself to be what it is: another Arnold movie with a lot of loud explosions, and God knows we’ve seen that hundreds of times before. All the same qualities that goes into making a successful action film is here, but with Arnold at the helm, it just seems, well, old news.

Unless you like this kind of stuff, in which case “Collateral Damage” is quite a taut and fast-moving film that never fails to entertain. It certainly knows its explosions, that’s for sure.

Andrew Davis (director) / Ronald Roose, David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths (screenplay)
CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger …. Gordon Brewer
Elias Koteas …. Peter Brandt
Francesca Neri …. Selena Perrini
Cliff Curtis …. Claudio ‘The Wolf’ Perrini

Buy Collateral Damage on DVD