Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage (15)

OF ALL the movies that caused discomfort in Hollywood after the terrorist attacks of September 11 last year Collateral Damage was the one that most studio execs were nervous about.

In it a palpably older Arnold Schwarzenegger takes revenge on the terrorists who laid waste to a Los Angeles building, killing his wife and son.

Like most Arnie flicks this one is relentlessly gung-ho – the type of flag-waving, über-patriotic subject matter with which he made his reputation in the 1980s.

In that respect Arnie hasn’t moved on much, except that in this particular adventure he has ditched the guns, gadgets and other weapons that made him an indestructible one-man army and has plumped instead for an attempt at characterisation.

In Collateral Damage he goes full pelt for the image of a grieving husband and father. His character is that of a fire-fighter – a canny move when one considers the hero worship directed towards the men involved in the World Trade Center disaster.

Yet one must also bear in mind that Collateral Damage was filmed and completed well before September 11. In fact, it was scheduled for release and then put back once the attacks had taken place.

In that respect it has chilling overtones of six months ago. American audiences will relate only too well to the bloody bodies under sheets and the flaming, wreckage-strewn streets that dominate the start of this particular story.

The rest of the movie follows pretty familiar ground, with Arnie, as shattered All-American Gordy Brewer, heads deep into South America to find and exact revenge on El Lobo, the guerrilla leader responsible for his family’s deaths.

In a film that desperately attempts to distance itself from the standard Arnie fare – our hero is looking old, slowing down, and frequently takes a back seat to the main action – it still falls into the trap of demonising the villain. In this particular case El Lobo kills the failures in his team by forcing open their jaws and slipping live snakes down their throats to choke them.

Still, this is so obviously a different direction for Arnie that it grates. He has played the lone, comic book superhero for too long now to escape so easily. Stallone almost did it with Copland but missed his chance; in truth Arnie never had a chance in the first place.

In the hands of director Andrew Davis, the man behind Under Siege and The Fugitive, Collateral Damage becomes more than just another shoot-‘em-up. With Arnie at its core, however, it fails to elevate itself higher than his best attempts at character acting.

Passing extended cameos from John Turturro and John Leguizamo offer a tad more gravitas than the film deserves but, with its passing resemblance to flicks like Arlington Road and the 1980 Rod Taylor TV movie Cry of the Innocent it at least offers Arnie a break from the treadmill.

Also, despite its simplistic message – the terrorist attacks are the result of peasants battling perceived US imperialism – Collateral Damage is not as rampantly xenophobic as a lot of pictures in the same genre.

Nevertheless one of the film’s lines – “You can’t negotiate with terrorists” – will ring truer in many Americans’ minds since September 11. I wonder however if they will understand and accept that the sentiment pre-dates the New York attacks or, indeed, if it matters any more?

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