- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

I am not sure who put up the collateral, but the Arnold Schwarzenegger vengeance thriller titled "Collateral Damage" is definitely damaged goods.
Moreover, timing is the least of its misfortunes. Originally scheduled to open the first weekend in October, the movie was postponed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which obviously overwhelmed the feeble attempts at calamitous motivation and resonance that sufficed for the filmmakers.
The film is a misbegotten and ramshackle grandstander. It struggles to rationalize and glorify Mr. Schwarzenegger as a grief-stricken but relentless L.A. firefighter named Gordy Brewer who tracks down the Colombian terrorists responsible for a time bomb that killed his wife and little boy, caught in the path of flying glass and debris in the courtyard of an office building adjacent to the Colombian consulate.
Maladroit from the outset, the movie introduces Gordy on the job, supposedly intent on saving lives in a flaming apartment building. The tone of the crisis is promptly trivialized when the star announces, "You guys stay back, I'm going in."
Of course he is to rescue a helpless old lady, if it matters. Just as you're mulling over the wisdom of calling attention to the need for a star to hog an action scene, a sudden cut takes you out of the entire prologue.
It appears to have been a nightmare experienced by the doomed Mrs. Brewer (Lindsay Frost). Can that be right? Have we failed to witness Gordy in an authentic act of valor? Maybe director Andrew Davis plans to experiment with stream-of-consciousness exposition, channeled through a character who won't survive the first reel.
Not really. He's just getting absent-minded earlier than you expect. For example, "Damage" could use a few more tender domestic scenes to establish the ill-fated spouse and child. It's a little too eager to launch Mr. Schwarzenegger as a vengeful juggernaut, off on the road to Colombia (doubled by the Veracruz region of Mexico) to do the work the CIA has failed to do.
Well, there's another miscalculation. As Brandt, the CIA's man in Colombia, Elias Koteas inspires far more professional confidence than the star.
It's a final indication of the movie's foolishness that both Mr. Koteas and Jane Lynch, who was so wonderful in "Best of Show" and appears briefly here as an FBI agent, must be discarded shabbily during the finale to accommodate more harebrained heroic exertions from the star, supposedly pursuing the elusive villains up, down, around and underneath Washington's Union Station.
Mr. Davis seemed quite clueless with the Keanu Reeves runaround titled "Chain Reaction." He's back in chain-reaction jeopardy with "Damage," which never gets a handle on ominous or suspenseful depiction. Even the bombing episode that costs the hero his family looks pictorially dinky and inept, as if the budget for pyrotechnics had been slashed.
Supposedly, there are about two dozen casualties, leaving the movie in little danger of anticipating or rivaling the magnitude of September 11. Since Gordy is close enough to wave to his loved ones before they perish, a typical movie explosion should have finished him off, as well. The would-be traumatizing episode appears skimped in order to keep Mr. Schwarzenegger in an ambulatory state.
Nevertheless, you don't necessarily long to see a quadruple bypass subject pretend to be as spry as he was while impersonating Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator. The first glimpse of Gordy hiking through the jungle is inadvertently funny. So is Mr. Schwarzenegger's first utterance of "gracias," which is then repeated in a way that makes you suspect Gordy mistakes it for the only word he'll ever need to finesse communication in a Latin American country.
John Turturro and John Leguizamo turn up for Colombian cameos and promise to be eccentrically amusing. Then they're gone before wearing out their welcomes, reminding you again that there's only one big welcome mat discernible in "Collateral Damage," and it's reserved for the aging, overcompensating big guy.
For the record, the overcompensation scrapes bottom when Gordy trumps Mike Tyson by biting off and spitting out a huge chunk of ear while grappling with a bad hombre.
An amazing pattern of shortcuts and coincidences makes it possible for Gordy to confront the villain, who favors a nickname with somewhat cartoonish connotations, El Lobo. Despite being jailed and beaten, Gordy has relatively little trouble sabotaging such Lobo assets as a cocaine ranch and a paramilitary command center. We watch Cliff Curtis as Lobo punish a flunky by supposedly stuffing a snake down his throat, one of the more uncalled-for atrocities in recent Hollywood annals. (So is the ear-chomping, come to think of it.)
Nevertheless, the besieged Lobo treats Gordy with relative kid gloves, setting up a highly dubious bonding thing between Mrs. Lobo (Francesca Neri) and the avenger, who protects her and her little boy from one of his sabotage stunts.
You'll gather that "Collateral Damage" has its "deep" pretensions, exposed as merely expedient and crackpot during the finale.


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