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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 19.7%
Pretty Bad: 13.64%
Total Crap: 27.27%

4 reviews, 42 user ratings

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Collateral Damage
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by Jack Sommersby

"Takes Quite a Toll on the Audience"
1 stars

By far, Arnold Schwarzeneggar's worst

Collateral Damage has next to nothing working in its dubious favor -- that is, except for a single redeeming factor: Francesa Neri's sexy, star-making turn as the wife of a renowned Colombian terrorist responsible for the deaths of the hero's (the hero, of course, being Arnold Schwarzenegger) wife and young daughter. Neri possesses the kind of fiery screen presence that commands the screen; she's able to charge up and emotionally texture a scene with little or no effort; and has the ability through undeniable charisma and galvanizing acting ability to vivify and bring credence to a film, even if the film itself doesn't exactly offer up the opportunities for legitimate, full-fledged screen acting. If the potential for it is there, though, and if the screenplay doesn't provide an actor with the dramatic underpinnings to ground a scene in honest and identifiable human emotions, and if the filmmakers are negligible (and downright foolish) in not allowing the opportunity for this potential to be pointed up and expounded upon, then don't blame the virtuoso thespian for taking matters into their own capable hands by running with each and every one of their scenes and giving them a direct emotional purity the clunky writing cannot possibly begin to support. Neri winds up hitting a major acting homer by running with that potential and scoring with effortless zeal.

Collateral Damage has one of the stupidest screenplays ever to disgrace an action film in quite some time (not a small feat considering the barrage of bottom-basement action films we've been getting as of late). Rather than gamely playing out on an enjoyable trashy level, the film makes a fatal mistake of coming across as something superior to standard genre fare: a thinking-person's action film. But its lead character, Schwarzenegger's Los Angeles fireman Gordon Brewster, has no core -- he's simply another action hero motivated by revenge -- and since we know so little about him before his family is killed, his descent into an-eye-for-an-eye violence holds no resonance nor presents any moral repercussions for him. (He might as well be doggedly tracking down the careless paperboy for throwing his paper in a mud puddle.) I know that projected action quo for an acceptable action film might be deemed as needlessly grandiose, but the action film on display here exudes an insulting air of social importance and relevance that's consistently being undermined by the frequent dips into the cliche drawer.

For the most part, one sits through the film more stupefied than stunned, wondering how it's possible a story like this could play out so listlessly and ludicrously. When U.S. government officials confide that they can't really do anything about bringing the terrorist (known as "El Lobo") to justice, the nothing-to-lose Brewer takes it upon himself to venture down to Colombia to, um, deal with the matter first-hand. We're supposed to be witnessing an Everyman taking numerous chances and doing dangerous things, but Brewer is played by Schwarenegger -- the invincible Schwarzenegger -- so, naturally, based on his numerous past screen outings as the righter of countless wrongs, he may appear to be in life-threatening situations but never convinces as actually being in actual, reality-based peril. Besides, if the character didn't survive up till the final quarter for a climactic confrontation, there wouldn't be a film, so with the jettisoning of mortal-being plausibility, a glaring monkey wrench is thrown into the mix: We know Schwarzenegger (oops, I meant Brewer!) will still be standing by film's end to do that final dance-to-the-death, which cancels out any possibility of us properly relating to him.

I'm probably not succeeding in making much of a valid case here being that virtually all of Schwarzenegger's films rely and thrive upon the his adherence to against-all-odds survival. Yet how come the filmmakers (primarily the director, Andrew Davis) seem oblivious to their star's pop culture roots and bagagge? They expect us to have an actual emotional stake in the story when we know perfectly well how things'll turn out -- that Schwarzenegger will have his nemeses' butts in a painful, fatal sling by film's end. This goes completely against the publicized intentions behind Collateral Damage: that it's something other than a routine action film, when in fact it's nothing more than that with delusions of grandeur. Could an angst-ridden American saunter down to South America, encounter a number of citizens eager to help him, and infiltrate an intelligent terrorist's well-guarded home without the slightest hitch? Of course not. But there is Schwarzenegger himself going on the airwaves and talk shows promoting the film as if it's a cut or two above your average genre entry when its formulaic excesses are the rule and organic, character-oriented actions are the exception. The audience sits there dumbfounded, wondering what's to be taken seriously, what's to be judged on a purely camp level, or just downright booed off the screen -- and not necessarily for the film's implausibilities, but for its bogus aspirations to be accepted as anything even remotely plausible. The foolish earnest intentions quickly numb our responses: we know the attempts at "reality" are poppycock while eagerly awaiting the film to cut loose of its phony altruistic overtones and get on with the enjoyable, undemanding stuff (if there was any, that is).

Unfortunately, director Davis never gets a distinctive, confident grasp on the material, and the sloppy pacing and awkward editing -- which slog the viewer left and right and backwards and forwards like the Log Ride at Six Flags Over Texas -- call glaring attention to the ineptness of his overall handling. Collateral Damage plays out in a state of narrative limbo -- everything in it seems dissociated, with plot points that don't connect as if they don't matter and with such gigantic leaps in logic that the story might as well be taking place in the realm of outer space for all we know, so we're pretty much left to take it from the characters' own mouths what's actually happening. (The audience's role as perceived susceptible dummies has rarely been made more adamantly clear.) Davis showed some snap and style in two of his earlier films -- Code of Silence, with Chuck Norris, and Under Siege, with Steven Seagal (both of which were career bests for their stars) -- but ever since his impersonal, lumbering remake of The Fugitive his work has given off the impression of his hauling himself to the set just to order the damn camera to be turned on, with the highest aesthetic standard to be achieved apparently the prevention of a boom mike protruding into a frame. The French Connection's William Friedkin could have possibly shaken up the story some and instilled some verve and velocity into the sequences; with the uneven Davis at the helm, however, all we can think of is how dire a lost cause the film is almost right from the very start (the opening sequence inside a burning building is lamely done).

First-rate character actors John Turturro and John Leguizamo show up briefly, giving travelogue performances for easy paychecks. Cliff Curtis exudes passable menace as the terrorist, and the talented Elias Koteas is given too little to do as a well-meaning government agent. Schwarzenegger himself is underwhelming and weak, never once conjuring up the lucidity and alertness he admirably displayed as the grieved ex-cop in the silly but entertaining End of Days. Only Francesca Neri manages to come through. Previously seen as the demanding wife of the doomed Italian police officer in the botched Hannibal, Neri manages to define and illuminate character, never for a second making us doubt she's not perfectly justified in everything she does on-screen. And it's a real kicker in seeing the character change from good to not-so-good -- Neri gives maliciousness a mischievious sense of fun. (Of course, the film's final twist would be even more riveting if it weren't such a blatant lift from the outstanding 1999 thriller Arlington Road.) Though Collateral Damage doesn't do right by Neri, it at least leaves us with the hope that it'll serve as a springboard to catapult this dynamic actress to the front rank of A-list films her talent more than merits.

Makes "Red Sonja" look like a masterpiece.

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originally posted: 01/06/03 06:43:51
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
7/13/09 Erin Not his best, but he's certainly better and more believable than that crap True Lies. 4 stars
1/11/09 action movie fan exciting,clever twists and great motorcyclr chase oneof arnold,s best 5 stars
4/12/08 Monday Morning When you've done it all in movies, you become a politician. 5 stars
1/20/08 Pamela White dramatic and Arnold even speaks 4 stars
12/16/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow 4 stars
3/02/06 Volker I feel sorry for Arni.. 2 stars
1/26/06 JM Synth Kind of flat, but never unwatchable, and the last 20 minutes are great 3 stars
8/27/05 ES Arnold still has the talent to pull himself up and away from trash like this 2 stars
6/20/05 darick Suspensful but not much else 2 stars
5/27/05 tony upsets me when i watch it.Due to poor acting and action.This could be 1 of the worst movies 2 stars
8/02/04 R.W. Welch Plot stretches at times but has a couple good twists. Average actioner. 3 stars
4/06/04 Mr X They should of renamed this movie "brain damage" 1 stars
2/16/04 Tahed your my best movie star arnold in the whole world 5 stars
2/14/04 mohammed hussain total waste of time 1 stars
1/18/04 Cliff fan Cliff is a Maori from New Zealand, that's a kiwi accent 3 stars
11/30/03 john Arnold is over! 1 stars
10/07/03 Ingo Nice sound effects. 2 stars
3/28/03 Matt Thiel We deserve better action films. A lot better. 2 stars
2/12/03 Paul Coleman Somewhat silly, yet entertaining from start to finish. Tons of action! 3 stars
11/18/02 David Arthur Forget what the critics say, this is a brilliant movie with superb acting 5 stars
9/25/02 Ben Wasden Mostly average, but the final 20 minutes are worth it. 3 stars
8/03/02 Kyle For future reference, read the fucking script, Ahnuld. 1 stars
7/11/02 .Choadushouse. Nothing entertaining about it. Not even bad enough to be funny for an Arnold flick. Horrid. 1 stars
4/25/02 Meredith Harshaw Guess it's more politically correct to depict terrorism as rooted in a Christian country! 3 stars
4/24/02 Carmen Crowe OK movie; shows Colombia more fucked up than war on drugs alone could do to it. 4 stars
4/08/02 Johannes gaaaaagh i fell in zhe vhader 1 stars
3/29/02 Evan The Critic Maybe some corny plot twists, but this is a classic Arnold. Not the best, not the worst. 4 stars
3/22/02 Anus Check out the 'Patriotic Mug' he's drinking from. SOOOO FUCKING CORNY!!! 2 stars
3/15/02 Andrew Carden Action-Filled Fun. Meaningless Movie With One Hell Of A Great Actor. 4 stars
3/11/02 Rgtp Give me something Arnold 3 stars
3/04/02 NiceGlamourShotErik I thought this was an early 80's boring peice of shit - A Chuck Norris film starring Arnie 1 stars
2/14/02 Todd Beamer Not much Action for an "Action" movie. Ahnold should go back to just blowin shit up!!! 2 stars
2/14/02 Hotaine Arnold should have quit after "True Lies". 2 stars
2/12/02 gary erik gives the movie away agian! 4 stars
2/12/02 Bruce Despite the subject matter, this is a film worth watching 5 stars
2/11/02 Banky Edwards I like it when the title of the movie is mentioned in during the movie....wait, no I don't! 1 stars
2/11/02 strider3700 explosions that rip bikes to shreds should kill the people on the bike as well. total shit 1 stars
2/09/02 The Gillinator The movie is fantastic! Arnold's best performance since True Lies. 5 stars
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  08-Feb-2002 (R)



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