Want bin Laden on a stick? Apparently the Bush administration should just save the money going toward cumbersome military operations and buy Arnie a plane ticket.
“Collateral Damage,” the Schwarzenegger spectacle released last Friday, was originally slated to open in early October, but Warner Bros. figured that a movie about a high-rise bombing wasn’t appropriate at that time. There was talk that Warner Bros. might permanently shelve the movie out of sensitivity to those affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Just five months later, however, Arnie is back on the big screen, single-handedly saving us all from the terrorist threat. In fact, “Collateral Damage” has ridden the recent wave of patriotic thirst for blood all the way to last weekend’s number-one spot at the box office.
Sure, firefighter Gordy Brewer’s (Schwarzenegger) nemesis is not Middle Eastern – he is Colombian – but close enough, right? When a bomb planted by infamous separatist guerilla El Lobo (Cliff Curtis) kills Brewer’s wife and son, and the federal investigation grinds to a standstill, Brewer’s desire to exact his own brand of revenge leads him to the middle of a Colombian guerrilla zone.
Bullets fly, bombs explode, Brewer’s eyes narrow.
“Collateral Damage” promises everything you’d expect from a costly action flick: hand-to-hand combat, peril for the hero, a detective type, a femme fatale and the ultimate triumph of good old American family values.
Cool, I thought.
But my anticipatory glee went up in flames about 10 minutes into the film, when Schwarzenegger uttered the words, “Bah-bble, bah-bble, toil and trah-bble!” I can only assume that one of the screenwriters (David and Peter Griffiths were the only two credited) understood how bad the dialogue was and threw in the Shakespeare reference as a wink. No one in the auditorium even groaned.
This movie isn’t uniformly bad. The terrorist conspiracies are clever and Brewer’s axe-aided rescue of a woman in the fiery opening sequence is well choreographed. The plot even dips into the real complexities of foreign relations by making the point, however fleeting, that the American government’s hands aren’t entirely clean of civilian blood.
But, ultimately, the action sequences are strung together with the weakest of cinematic elements. Big fireballs don’t excuse the complete implausibility of this scenario.
Try as I might, I can’t get past the idea that the skylights in a central State Department command center might be shattered by a suitcase. Such a room probably wouldn’t even be above ground. Brewer shouldn’t be able to access the inner guerrilla zone by simply flashing a non-photographic ID, either.
The supporting cast does little to prop up Schwarzenegger’s substandard acting. Even the creative death scenes provide little distraction from the terrible dialogue. Federal agent Brandt (Elias Koteas) says, “You can’t take the law into your own hands!” with about as much authority as a pig-tailed preschooler, while the villain, Claudio/El Lobo, has exactly two facial expressions to accompany his cut-rate Darth Vader colloquy. Gordy’s reaction to the man who murdered his family is about as sharp as a bowling ball. He aimed for ruthlessness; he came off lukewarm.
John Leguizamo’s charismatic Felix is comically naive for a drug lord, while John Turturro drips with slime as Brewer’s reluctant accomplice. Both actors squeezed as much as possible out of a script that, unfortunately, places little emphasis on character development.
If you’ve seen any Schwarzenegger movie other than “Twins” or “Kindergarten Cop,” you know exactly what to expect. But the screenwriters shouldn’t have trusted a man who labors over multi-syllable words to conduct sensitive operations against nationalistic fanatics – that’s why we have a president.