At first glance, Collateral Damage could well be just another Schwarzenegger smash-’em-up: plenty of explosions and mean guys to hurt Ah-nold and plenty of situations to make Ah-nold go “ah” as first he suffers photogenically and then gets even. The best of his early action work — Predator, The Running Man and the career-defining The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgment Day — cast him as the man(droid) who survived all tribulations, a larger-than-life everymensch with a cool accent, haircut and pecs, and the ability to make things right in a world full of deception.
Damage, however, is a revenge fantasy of a different order, one that reads unavoidably in Sept. 11 terms. Though the terrorists here are Marxist revolutionaries from Colombia, the murder of innocents proceeds with the deaths of Ah-nold’s story-world wife and small son (the setup footage is packed with shot after shot of this terminally cute little feller’s smiling face). Once the dirty deed is done, Ah-nold as a victimized civilian is given an amazing amount of information by FBI, CIA and LAPD cops, and before we can blink we’re following him through a barrage of jump cuts to the jungles of Central America, where he’s ready to take on all left-wing greasers in the name of retribution.
Never mind the string of implausible events, an utter waste of talent (Elias Koteas and Francesca Neri), totally subpar cameos by John Turturro and John Leguizamo (two guys who should know better) or the constant feeling that “this is only a (crappy) movie.” What’s really the problem with this lump of Hollywood coal is the bald-faced attempt by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) to implicate each viewer in Old Testament eye-for-an-eye bloodlust.
The telltale moment comes when the rebel leader offs one of his soldiers for “making a mistake”: It’s one of the most disgusting scenes of torture in recent memory and only serves to satanize the rebels, in case anybody back home might have some sympathy for campesinos struggling against Yankee-backed exploitation. Apparently the war on terrorism needs unthinking drones — and conservative hacks such as Schwarzenegger (like John Wayne before him) are only too happy to provide its latest propaganda.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.