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IN SHORT: Average Arnold. [Rated R for violence and some language. 110 minutes]
There are good movie stories and there are bad movie stories and then, in a category almost to itself, there are Arnold (Schwarzenegger) stories. Whether good guy or bad guy, Arnold is usually playing a character that is determined and unstoppable at whatever he is pursuing; a man who is rarely out of his element (the sole exception to both 'scenarios' was Twins), who packs a mean punch and carries a ton of firepower. It's what we expect and it's what Arnold knows we know to expect. So what's the man going to do when it's time to change the formula, or, how do you deliver an "Arnold" with a star that isn't packing heavy duty firepower? The answer is Collateral Damage which, treads a fine line between being an OK Arnold popcorn movie and something which could have you laughing out loud.
We didn't laugh and we enjoyed most of Collateral Damage. A couple of gray haired crits behind us had a guffaw or two -- mostly from tacky dialog. Collateral Damage fails to deliver the wham! bam! yahoo! finale that we like, though it surely tried its hardest. This movie is, we suspect, the kind that is going to heavily depend on the kind of audience that sits for it -- the larger the audience the better, whichever way they go.
The weakest part of the movie is the linchpin for a third act twist that we won't spill. (You'll figure it out if you really want to and it won't matter much if you do. By the time it happens you'll be pro, neg or indifferent to the movie).
Once upon a time Gordon Brewer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was late for a meeting with his beautiful blonde wife and energetic young son at a restaurant next to the Colombian Embassy. Wouldn't you know it, just as the embassy suits and a couple of CIA and FBI agents were pulling up, an international terrorist nicknamed "El Lobo" (Cliff Curtis) blows 'em all to pieces with a car bomb.
The FBI and CIA lock on to Gordy, the one surviving eyewitness. When they tell him he can't go after El Lobo, our hero heads South anyhow. Just like the Arnold we expect. There are substories about a sort-of renegade CIA agent (Elias Koteas) explaining how the Colombia of this movie is involved in a Civil war; that El Lobo leads the opposition and that covers bases well enough for any political correctness. While the attack was against Colombian territory (which is what embassies, even on foreign soil, are considered) Americans were killed -- thus the title and thus the motive. Good old revenge.
Along the way, actors John Turturro and John Leguizamo pop up to help move the star and his search along. Blink and you'll miss 'em. When the moment of revenge comes, we discover that Arnie isn't the same kind of scum that El Lobo is. A young woman (Francesca Neri) and her son are in the vicinity of the revenge blast to come and our hero won't let history repeat itself. His bad, since the pair turn him over to El Lobo. It is here that snippets of sentimentality start to raise their unwelcome heads, from time to time, but they pass as quickly as the two aforementioned Johns. More to the point, the endgame isn't set in some generic jungle, thanks to our shadowy CIA folk who have been tailing our hero from 20,000 miles up in the sky.
So what's the problem? The problem is that, once you get a third of the way
through Collateral Damage, there are no surprises and almost no way that
you're not going to figure out the thin story way in advance. We're deliberately
withholding almost all descriptive material because those of you that shell out
the big bucks should have the opportunity to figure it out. Unless Collateral
Damage is your first action movie of any kind, you'll see the twists and surprises
before you get halfway through the jumbo sized popcorn.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Collateral Damage, he would have paid . . .
As we write, the local news is covering protests outside the NY premiere of Collateral Damage. The protests are two: first, that it is too soon after September 11 to have a movie about terrorism. Second, that it makes Colombians look bad. We may be splitting hairs here but, aside from the fact that the terrorists have a physical base in Colombia, the film goes to great lengths to avoid making that connection. It does emphasize that El Lobo's wife is not Colombian, though. More to the point, no one outside of the press has seen the film yet, for which the filmmakers should be thankful. Collateral Damage is just an average Arnold and, without any controversy to stir up interest, would have been gone once all the major fans were done with it.
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