When it comes to movies, their release dates and associated marketing, studio execs spend untold hours, days and even months trying to figure out the optimum time to release their films and how to promote them. They'll also usually accept just about any outside occurrence or facts that might get their latest effort some additional attention, such as occurred with "The China Syndrome" and the near simultaneous events at Three Mile Island.
With the recent tragic occurrences of Sept 11th, however, studios scrambled to figure out what to do with all of their fall 2001 releases, particularly if they dealt with planes, bombs or terrorists. The film probably most affected by that was Warner's "Collateral Damage."
Originally scheduled for release in October, the tale of an L.A. firefighter who loses his family in a terrorist bombing on domestic soil obviously hit too close to home, and was thus shelved. When the studio realized that audiences were apparently longing for films featuring heroes prevailing over the villains, though, the film was put back on the release track for its early 2002 debut.
Historical association and some early posturing aside, however, this is just another shoot 'em and blow 'em up Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick, and a rather mediocre one at that. With director Andrew Davis ("A Perfect Murder," "The Fugitive") behind the camera and novice screenwriters David Griffiths & Peter Griffiths at the keyboard, the film initially appears as if it might be a bit different than normal "Ah-nuld" fare.
That's due to the former bodybuilder playing an "everyman" character (or at least as far as one can get considering the Austrian accent and bulging pecs and biceps) and the Tom Clancy style political action setup.
Yet, despite those early teasers that this could be a brawny and brainy Schwarzenegger vehicle, it ultimately succumbs to a progressively weakening script that does little with the material it borrows from the Clancy written Jack Ryan films, "Arlington Road," and even the star's previous efforts.
The film's biggest problem is Schwarzenegger ("The 6th Day," "Batman & Robin") himself. Beyond being ever longer in the tooth than the last time around in these sorts of action films, the actor simply doesn't have the dramatic chops to pull off this sort of role in a convincing fashion or make the viewer worry about him. It's not that he doesn't give it the old Hollywood try. Just like Jim Carrey, though, I feel a bit sorry for him, as you know he really wants to do well and make the part work.
Unfortunately, while any number of other actors could have probably done a great deal more with the role, the stiff acting and our ingrained knowledge that the actor's character will undoubtedly be back to kick some "hasta la vista" booty removes any semblance of credibility or suspense from the proceedings.
It certainly doesn't help that his "everyman" character eventually, but predictably turns into a superman of sorts, hitching a ride on the bottom of a truck's undercarriage, sliding down many stories of elevator cable and taking a standard Hollywood licking but continuing to come back for more (although I do have to admit enjoying him impersonating Mike "I'm Gonna Bite Your Ear" Tyson in one such scene).
Apparently, the scribes or later script "doctors" decided, felt or were told that the actor's fans would need their requisite action fix, and a that milquetoast protagonist just wouldn't do. Unfortunately, such developments eventually undermine what was trying to be set up and accomplished early on in the film.
Of course, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that the script's attempts at being an intelligent thriller also quickly evaporate. One sequence in particular - where a former military advisor informs the protagonist of the rules and dangers of operating in Colombia - could be one of the worst you might see all year in a big budget, mainstream release. Not only is the dialogue far too contrived and on the nose, but the exposition is also far too abundant and then continues in voice over later in the film just so were not confused by what's occurring.
The filmmakers also introduce a potentially intriguing plot development in the form of the protagonist's actions mirroring and/or paralleling those of the villain he's pursuing. Unfortunately, nothing profound comes of this - other than allowing Schwarzenegger to deliver his trademark quips - as the film turns into yet another high octane, but dumb action flick. Accordingly, and to no one's surprise, the villain isn't dead the first time around (when will Hollywood stop trying to "fool" us with such faux finales?).
Even a late in the game story twist - inspired by or ripped off from the far superior "Arlington Road" - doesn't work as well as the filmmakers obviously thought it would. It's also undermined by the fact that we know Arnie - unlike Jeff Bridges - doesn't lose in these sorts of films. While allowing that to happen would have taken some artistic guts, it would have been cinematic suicide in what's now a non-cynical Hollywood cycle.
The film also suffers from underdeveloped characters. Beyond Schwarzenegger's role, Elias Koteas ("Novocaine," "Lost Souls") is decent as a rogue CIA agent who doesn't like to play by or follow the rules, but we don't know enough about him and the actor doesn't get enough screen time to do as much with him as should have occurred.
The same holds true for Cliff Curtis ("Training Day," "Blow") who's reduced to yet just another foreign villain with the standard "You Americans don't understand" speeches that ultimately don't amount to anything. Francesca Neri ("Hannibal," "Live Flesh") appears as what seems like a strong women and possibly interesting character as the story progresses, but then suffers from a plot twist that dispels all of that and isn't constructed well enough to blow us away like it should. John Leguizamo ("Moulin Rouge," "Summer of Sam") and John Turturro ("O Brother, Where Art Thou? "Company Man") show up in very small parts, but don't end up adding anything substantial.
Then there are the optical/visual effects - often stars themselves in Schwarzenegger's films - that look quite fake, most notably the initial terrorist bombing and a later "Fugitive" style fall down a towering waterfall, and only add to the film's misery.
In the end, there's nothing here that you haven't seen before or has been pulled off better in some of the actor's earlier and far superior work. While I wanted to like this film and the star's diehard fans might enjoy the usual action material, its redundant and subpar qualities means that "Collateral Damage" might refer to those who unfortunately find themselves in its company. The film rates as just a 4 out of 10.