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Collateral Damage

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Francesca Neri, Elias Koteas, John Turturro, Cliff Curtis, Lindsay Frost

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

The Colombian terrorist stares in the vengeful eyes of the American trying to kill him and hisses, "What's the difference between you and I?" With a steely glare, the man answers, "The difference is, I'm just gonna kill you."

Welcome to "Collateral Damage," the latest action extravaganza starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set for release last fall, the movie was delayed because the filmmakers thought the similarities between its premise and the atrocities of September 11 would prove distasteful to domestic audiences.

Good call, but why did they think it would be any more palatable a few months later?

Before entering a theater, I do my best to clear my head and go in with an open mind. I tried to view "Collateral Damage" simply as escapist entertainment, but failed. Those horrific images from September 11 simply remain too clear. And there's more to it than that. For months, in addition to fighting terrorism on many fronts, our country and its allies around the world have marshaled their resources to try to capture one terrorist leader. While I realize that the film was completed long before the attacks, the spectacle of a movie hero single-handedly doing the job is insulting to the men and women trying to accomplish the same task in real life, not to mention the innocents that have been killed in the process.

"Collateral Damage" opens with Los Angeles Firefighter Gordy Brewer (Schwarzenegger) rescuing an elderly woman in a blazing apartment building. Shortly after, he goes to meet his wife and young son, securing permission from a police officer to double-park briefly while he dashes inside to get them. Suddenly, there is a huge explosion that injures Gordy and kills his family.

Afterwards, the grieving father learns that the man in the police uniform has been identified by the government as a Colombian terrorist known as "The Wolf" (Cliff Curtis) and that he orchestrated the bombing. Gordy shares what information he can with officials and is sent home by CIA operative Brandt (Elias Koteas) with the assurance that "we'll find this guy."

As the weeks drag by without the capture of The Wolf, Gordy decides to do it himself. With some cash and only a rough sketch of a plan, he goes to Colombia. Despite the fact that he stands at least a head taller than anyone, he manages to navigate his way towards the terrorist enclave. During his journey, he meets Felix (John Leguizamo), a supervisor at a cocaine-producing plantation and Armstrong (John Turturro), a Canadian expatriate working for the guerrillas as a mechanic. He also encounters a young mother, Selena (Francesca Neri), and her adopted son Mauro (Tyler Garcia Posey), whose lives he saves. Twice. Finally, he gets his reunion with The Wolf, although his quest for justice will carry him back to the States when he learns that the next terrorist target is somewhere in Washington, DC.

As is the norm in movies like this, both the government and the guerrillas underestimate Gordy, initially viewing him as a curiosity, then as merely a pest. Only in the final third of the story do they come to realize that they are dealing with Super-Everyman.

Compared with the rest of the Arnold oeuvre, "Collateral Damage" is standard issue, loaded with the expected mix of ludicrous fights, big stunts and massive explosions. There are, however, a few differences this time around. The tone is a little less cocky. The filmmakers apparently recognized that it would be inappropriate for Schwarzenegger to be flinging around one-liners amidst such pain.

Incidentally, the best line in the movie comes when one of the firefighter's buddies says, "Gordy, we need to get you on a gurney." Ah, the allure of alliteration.

As hard as it may be to believe, the acting is better than usual. Well, some of it. John Turturro and John Leguizamo use their brief time onscreen to create colorful characters without going over the top (an especially notable achievement for Leguizamo) and Elias Koteas adds some interesting shading to the cryptic CIA operative. Some credit is due to Schwarzenegger as well. While most of the film merely requires him to shout, he takes the few quiet moments given him and handles them with dignity.

And that is the only time the word dignity can be used in association with this movie. The screenplay paints all Colombians with one brush, which is shameful, and trivializes the pain suffered worldwide by the victims of terrorism with its idiotic one-man army approach. The bottom line is, even if the September 11 atrocities had never happened, "Collateral Damage" was a bad idea.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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