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Collateral Damage (2002) starstarstar

Reviewed 2002-08-16
: With its politically correct release delay, following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, Collateral Damage avoided collateral offensiveness. I guess. But the action-adventure film is an unusual one for lead actor Arnold Schwarzenegger: he plays the hero, Gordy Brewer, as a simple fireman (well, as simple as you can be with a Mr. Universe physique), rather than a highly trained government agent. The difference in how he takes revenge on the Columbian terrorists who accidentally killed his wife and son in a politically motivated consulate bombing is telling. Ahnold scarcely touches a gun in the entire 108 minutes of this action-adventure thriller.

At bottom the plot is a device to get the star into (and, we hope, out of) precarious situations in dangerous locations. And, at bottom, it works. Gordy (Schwarzenegger) pursues the Columbian revolutionary, Claudio "The Wolf" Perrini (a deadly effective, New Zealand-born Cliff Curtis), to his jungle lair, with the help of some supporting players. These include (when the Policía lock him up) a fellow prisoner played by the weasely John Turturro, and (when he gets sprung) a drug dealer played by the wise-cracking, sycophantic John Leguizamo. But it looks like almost everybody is a bad guy except Gordy: a CIA covert ops agent, Brandt (Elias Koteas), secretly follows him to track down the guerilla camp and score a win for his career.

He earns Selena's gratitude by saving her life, but all Gordy wants to do is find and kill the husband, "The Wolf." Selena (Italian actress Francesca Neri, who is solid -- and easy on the eyes), offers to help Gordy get out of Columbia to stop her husband's attempt to set off a bomb in Washington. Gordy takes one look at her adopted son (Tyler Posey), thinks of his own lost son, and agrees. There's plenty of bang for your rental buck and enough plot twists to keep you engaged in Collateral Damage. And Ahnold is a different sort of hero this time around: he uses alternate skills to prevail, fireman's skills.

It isn't that the film makes a political statement, exactly, but I took notice when I actually heard one of the characters make a halfway decent defense of anti-government insurgency. Perhaps the producers thought it was all right because the character was the bad guy, but "The Wolf" says the following to a captured Gordy: "You Americans are so naïve. You see a peasant with a gun on the news, you change the channel. But you never ask, `Why does a peasant need a gun?'" Considering what's happening in the post-911 world, about which Collateral Damage knows nothing, it is no longer a wonder.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.