by Stephen Notley
From the trailers, and the general floating American superpatriotism of the moment, one would assume that Collateral Damage would be one huge Arnie-driven fireball of righteous American retribution. Here's where the terrorists *get theirs!* Yeah! Arnie, blasting rockets and railguns left and right, blowing terrorists out of watch towers and ammo dumps, bringing the war to *them!* YEAH!
Except, it doesn't work that way. This movie was written and filmed before everybody's favorite day last year, so it's got this weird, off-kilter black-is-white view of America and terrorism. Now, since we've seen it, we know that the natural reaction to a terrorist attack on American soil is a burst of patriotism and a government more than eager to start dropping bombs. We know that's what happens in real life.
Collateral Damage, however, is set in the Ramboverse of leftover Vietnam anxiety where spindly politicians lack the will to do anything, so it falls to private citizens like Arnold Shwarzenegger to get international justice done, Arnie-style.
Or so you'd think. The director of Collateral Damage is Andrew Davis, who's best known for The Fugitive. He's kind of a down-scale action director, not so big on the cartoony set pieces of his colleagues. Thus, Collateral Damage --despite its anachronistic misreading of the American response to terrorism-- has a "real-life" kind of feel to it, from the cutesy iddle-widdle explosion at the beginning to the Columbian harbors and location shots that don't look like they've been tarted up with a bunch of computers. Instead of the big, matrix-y version of Rambo 4 that the trailers and the times seem to suggest, Collateral Damage comes across like something seriously intended, like Proof of Life.
But at the same time, it stars Arnold Shwarzenegger. As somebody who's, well, *not* Arnold Swarzenegger. All those big explosions in the trailer aren't Arnie's doing. No, he's on the receiving end. In fact --unbelievably-- Arnie doesn't carry or use a gun even once in the whole movie. For the first time in a long time, he's not playing a professional soldier or a cop. Okay, he's a fireman, so he's still heroic, but he's supposed to be a normal guy who hasn't been trained to kill people. So he doesn't blow up any rebel camps with a rocket laucher in each arm, or get in any elaborate knife fights, or conclude a knock-down, drag-out fight with the classic neck-snap.
No, he's a regular guy trying in a sort of recognizably real-life fashion to make his way into Columbia. Instead of two-fisting chainguns, he's wandering around in markets, avoiding(!) rebels and trying to get a pass to go up the river to get close to El Lobo (The Wolf).
Sometimes, it pays off. There's an early scene where he smashes up the office of some pro-Columbian activists, and he comes off as a guy who's furious and looking for somebody to beat up, but not as, you know, the Terminator.
Still, he's just too big and German and Arnold Shwarzenegger to be a regular guy. The simple fact is that this is not an Arnold Shwarzenegger movie, but he's in it anyway. But at the same time, he's Shwarzenegger. He can't not be Swarzenegger. So he's in one movie, and the movie is in another movie, and sometimes, Arnold's movie kinda bleeds into this one.
So while he's supposed to be this regular dude, for instance, we get a scene of the El Lobo (The Wolf) forcefeeding a snake to a failed lieutenant in classic action-movie bad-guy style. Or a plot twist where Arnie saves a woman and child from his own bomb, and then it turns out that they're the wife and kid of El Lobo (The Wolf). This snapping back and forth from cartoony to not is, well, goofy. Different from what you'd expect, but still pretty silly.
So Collateral Damage is something of a surprise, at least. But worth
seeing, just for that? Not really.