Comfortable and Furious

Collateral Damage (2002)

After seeing Collateral Damage I was very surprised that none of the other Ruthless assassins had gotten to it. Not that I object to this ripe little plumb rolling onto my plate. I just can’t believe everyone else at the table let it roll past them.

To begin with, this is superficially just another ridiculous action movie, like Commando or Predator, two movies that I enjoy as much as the next guy. So you have scenes like one in which Arnold looks at his nemesis through a window, perhaps thirty feet away. Arnold reaches behind his ear and pulls out a hand grenade. He attaches the grenade to a gas tank with a rubber band and fashions a timer out of a toothpick and the audience’s credulity as I shout “pull the pin and just fucking throw the fucking grenade! He’s thirty feet away!”

Normally scenes like that don’t detract from bad action movies and can actually contribute to their camp value. Like the infinite fight scene in They Live. The problem is that this movie is meant to be an informative political thriller about terrorism and U.S. involvement in the Columbian civil war.

As the late, great Chick Hearn would say, the mustard is off the hotdog. To non-Angelinos, that means that whatever the filmmakers were aiming for, they missed it badly. First off, the Columbian terrorists in this film aren’t really terrorists by most definitions. They blow up some U.S. and Columbian officials who are orchestrating the fight against them and accidentally kill Arnold’s wife and annoying son. Right in front of him. And sappy piano music plays. And we pan to the boy’s toy laying in the rubble, never to be used again. And if Arnold hadn’t been late picking them up, they would have still been alive And I’m crying for all the wrong reasons.

Later in the film the Columbians try to blow up CIA headquarters, which is an act that citizens of most Latin American countries can probably make a good case for. More to the point, ‘terrorism’ is usually thought to refer to strikes against civilians or non-combatants, not strikes against enemy leaders and strategists. Things get really goofy when the terrorists release the videos on which they claim responsibility. They talk as though they are deliberately striking at the civilian population. “We’re bringing the terror of the war home to Americans, none of you can feel safe, etc.” So why are they blowing up generals? They should be blowing up movie theaters like the guys in Invasion USA.

The only thing that makes the strike against the CIA anything other than an act of war, is that they use an oblivious deaf kid to deliver the bomb. Even that isn’t terrorism. It’s more of a war crime. As is making one of the characters in this film a disabled child in hopes at pulling at our heartstrings. What were they thinking? This is an Arnold movie! No deaf kids! It’s not like tossing in a single, puppy – eyed defective is going to make this film appeal to women.

I guess it’s sort of admirable that the film attempts to convey the motivations of the “terrorists” by describing some of the CIA’s own terrorism in the region. Joe Arnold Fan lives behind a concrete wall that prevents such information from reaching his walnut – sized brain, but I guess it’s worth the effort. In the end, the villains and the entire film become so cartoonish that nothing like that really matters. Imagine a cross between All the President’s Men and Rambo and you have a pretty good idea of what a bad idea this film was. It’s like something out of Mad magazine, but it’s supposed to be suspenseful.

The funniest part is the end. There’s this scene in which one of the characters makes a fairly common gesture and it slowly dawns on Arnold that that character is the head terrorist because the person in the videos makes the same gesture. The way the scene is shot mirrors the end of The Usual Suspects where all of the pieces of the puzzle come together: slow motion, flashbacks to the various scenes in the movie, Arnold’s attempt at a look of realization. But the puzzle only has one piece! “She made a smacking motion just like the terrorist did!” Again it’s like a Mad spoof. Like if they made a movie with the Central Park chess wizards from “Searching for Bobby Fischer” doing mazes on McDonald’s placemats.

By the way, has anybody else noticed that John Leguizamo is box office poison. Personally, I like the guy’s work and he’s easily the most entertaining presence in this film, but The Pest, Summer of Sam, Spawn, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? [Ed Note: Leguizamo was in a little movie called Moulin Rouge]

I’m too tired to do ratings because I’ve been looking for apartments all day. The bottom line is, don’t see the movie. Don’t even read the back of the box at the video store.