February 14, 2002

Damaged Goods

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A firefighter fighting terrorism. Could there be a more symbolic representation between good and evil in today’s society? Moreover, could a movie with these representations bring out any emotions from viewers that have already been exhausted by reality? In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newest action flick, Collateral Damage, it becomes apparent that the answer to this question is a resounding no. The five-month delay of the film’s release due to September 11 was not nearly enough to save the damaged film.

When heroic firefighter Gordon Brewer’s (Schwarzenegger) wife and son are victims of a terrorist attack by Columbian terrorist Claudio “El Lobo” Perrini (Cliff Curtis, Blow) which is targeted at members of the CIA, he must seek revenge. To do this, Ah-nold sneaks himself first into a Columbian town, and then into a Guerrilla camp where members are actively seeking him. Here, the muscle-bound (and not to mention touristy — backpack and all) giant has the opportunity to do what he does best: blend.

Serendipitously, Brewer saves the lives of El Lobo’s son (who is about the same age as his own deceased son) and wife (Francesca Neri, Hannibal), whose friendship helps to save his life when he is eventually captured by the terrorists. (Isn’t it convenient how El Lobo’s family is a mirror image of his own?) Of course, along the way there is lots of punching, shooting, and even a scene in which Brewer bites of the ear of one of the terrorists. There is also a torture scene that is not for the weak stomached, where El Lobo tortures a man by force-feeding him an entire live snake.

In this film there are the good guys, and the bad guys, and the ambiguous American government, represented by CIA Agent Peter Brandt (Elias Koteas) who want to sacrifice the good guys to fight the bad ones. While this does add an interesting dimension to the film, and possibly even a more realistic one, it does not help the overly unrealistic and unnecessarily saintly Schwarzenegger.

The action sequences manage to help the film, which is nice for the audience, who is only in the theater to see these scenes anyway. In these scenes, Schwarzenegger makes a point not to hurt anyone unless they are posing an immediate threat to him or a nearby woman or child who are conveniently omnipresent. That is, of course, unless he is hurting people in order to seek revenge, in which case it is totally acceptable to beat the shit out of them by any means possible. Way to be a role model, Arnold.

It seems that the director could find no way to make Schwarzenegger look like the normal, average Joe that he is supposed to be. In order to try to achieve this, the Terminator is often shown with kids, his own son or that of his nemesis. This doesn’t help at all. In these situations, Schwarzenegger looks just as awkward and uncomfortable as he did in Kindergarten Cop. Unfortunately, this is not a comedy and Arnold can never look average.

The film is not, however, without its rewarding moments. Despite the damaged level of Arnold’s acting abilities and the plot, there were two small roles played by big names who are worth noting that ameliorated, at least to a small extent, the one dimensional caliber of acting.

John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!) plays Felix Ramirez, a Columbian associate of the guerrillas who helps out Brewer. Leguizamo steals the screen when he demonstrates to Brewer the new field he wishes to venture into, rapping about his life as a Columbian drug lord.

Also, John Turturro (The Big Lebowski) plays a Canadian who helps Brewer make his way into the guerrilla camp. His stellar acting performance manages to dwarf the mammoth Schwarzenegger.

Overall, the simple story line of Collateral Damage will satisfy an action-hungry eight-year-old, but not too many others. The acting lacks, as does the story line. To be fair, any real entertainment value has already been taken away from the main themes of the film as they wallow in the shadow of the real terrorist attacks of September 11. While the five months that this film spent on the shelf were a great idea, perhaps it should have been left there indefinitely.

Archived article by Sara Katz