Collateral Damage

2002, Movie, R, 115 mins

Review

COLLATERAL DAMAGE
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This formulaic action picture's release was delayed for several months following the destruction of New York's World Trade Center, because the film involves terrorist attacks on major U.S. cities and features monosyllabic he-man Arnold Schwarzenegger as a firefighter. After rescuing a crippled old lady from a burning Los Angeles tenement, brawny Gordon "Gordy" Brewer (Schwarzenegger) returns home to the bosom of his perfect nuclear family, little knowing that his domestic bliss is about to be shattered. Mere hours later, Brewer's loving wife and adorable little boy are blown to bits by a bomb meant for the nearby Colombian consulate. Guerilla leader Claudio Perrini (Cliff Curtis) — code name: "The Wolf" — takes responsibility for the attack and promises to bring destruction to American soil until the U.S.A. stops meddling in Colombian affairs. The devastated Brewer at first believes the government will bring his family's killers to justice, but comes to realize that his personal tragedy is no one's priority. Not the FBI's, not the CIA's, not the State Department's, not even the guerillas' — the death of Brewer's family was just collateral damage, unfortunate but inconsequential. Even Perrini's nemesis, sneaky spook Peter Brandt (Elias Koteas), cares less about two dead civilians than the survival of his operation. So Brewer takes matters into his own hands, sneaking into Colombia, undertaking an APOCALYPSE NOW-like trip upriver to the rebel stronghold, meeting colorful characters (notably motor-mouthed cocaine mogul John Leguizamo and shady Canadian reprobate John Turturro) and demonstrating a proficiency in fire starting that verges on the alarming. He also unwittingly rescues Perrini's wife (Francesca Neri) and her mute son, Mauro (Tyler Garcia Posey), in a plot twist apparently meant to add moral complexity to the formulaic proceedings. Utterly predictable, noisy and stupid — the pass Schwarzenegger needs to travel upriver has to be the least convincing narrative device since CASABLANCA's coveted "letters of transit" — this thriller mixes the usual genre tropes (hovering helicopters, ragtag Latinos with guns, inscrutable government agents, stuff blowing up) with truly icky sentimentality. Anytime you're in danger of thinking the film is all about righteous ass-kicking, a shot of the doe-eyed Mauro reminds you that it's really all about a father's love for his son. That and baroquely sadistic villainy, exemplified by the scene in which Perrini suffocates an inept underling by forcing a live snake down his throat. Rebels bad, American fireman good. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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