By David Grove | February 2, 2002

“Collateral Damage” is reminiscent of the 1980’s wish fulfillment action-fantasies that starred Bronson, Norris, and yes, Schwarzenegger, who became a full fledged star with “The Terminator”(1984), but established his action-hero look more with films like “Commando”(1986) which “Collateral Damage” seems almost a remake of. In the Bronson and Norris films the bad guys were always killed with the hero staring them right in the eye, man to man. But since 9/11 everything has changed. The bad guys are different looking, and lurking within, in the style of Japanese thrillers. Will we ever be able to enjoy mindless action ever again?
Schwarzenegger plays a Los Angeles fireman who watches as his wife and son are killed by an errant terrorist bomb. Vowing revenge, he journeys to Colombia, befriends local guides, draws the attention of the bad guys, and slowly kills his way up the villain food chain. There’s a secret lair, a sympathetic minor character and a beautiful woman who might be on either side of the fence. You know the rap. There’s also a scene; shocking but strangely understandable, where Schwarzenegger chews off the ear of one of his captors. Again, given these times, you would think this might be a turnoff; but I’m sure there’s still millions of people looking for just this kind of entertainment, unless things really have changed forever in America and “Collateral Damage” is the last of its breed – the international revenge action thriller.
“Collateral Damage” is an entertaining action movie, nothing more, nothing less. Five months ago this film would’ve sailed into theaters without a word, but now? In the film, Schwarzenegger engages in a battle of wills with the villain named “The Wolf,” and it would be kind of disgusting if “The Wolf” didn’t have a point of view for blowing up Schwarzenegger’s family, so of course, he has a grudge, and he explains his motivations just long enough for us to think he’s totally crazy.
A lot of people are going to criticize “Collateral Damage” for stereotyping a Colombian villain, but then, who can we use for villains nowadays? Since Schwarzenegger is a fireman, does that make the film insensitive to the real life firefighters in New York? Does it matter that “Collateral Damage” was completed months before the events of 9/11?
I’m reminded of the crazy protests that ensued a few years ago when The Siege was released. That film bent over backwards to give even the most reprehensible villains a pulpit from which to speak, but I wish the filmmaker’s had just thrown caution to the wind and gone the whole nine yards, protests be damned. “Collateral Damage” doesn’t have as much to say as “The Siege,” but at least it’s not too politically correct. How could it be, given when it was made? At least in this film, Schwarzenegger kills the villains before they get to ramble on with long speeches.
“Collateral Damage” would’ve been a better film if it had dealt more with Schwarzenegger’s outrage over the death of his family, instead of just hurtling him nonstop into a plot that barely gives him a chance to breathe. If the film had moved more into the political motivations behind the villain’s actions, it might have generated real outrage from us, like the great 1982 thriller “Missing” which accused the US government of looking the other way when an American journalist was killed. But see how that sounds; as if the terrorist’s actions should be understood by us in any logical way, other than they’re wrong and we’re right?
“Collateral Damage” shouldn’t be compared to something it’s not. This is an action movie and on that level, the movie works. Arnold Schwarzenegger still finds interesting ways to kill villains, this time with the creative use of a fire-ax. But since 9/11, movies like “Collateral Damage” will be under heavy scrutiny and maybe we won’t see anymore for a long, long time. The world has changed so much since 9/11 and it’s a shame that the death of political correctness isn’t one of the changes. Bronson and Norris never had to deal with these problems.

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