In many ways Collateral Damage is no different from most of the other Arnie slugfests of the past, or those by Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford, come to think of it. A few tweaks to the plot and this could equally be a Die Hard clone.
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The action plot is bog standard: Arnie plays Gordy Brewer, an L.A. fire-fighter who loses his wife and son when a Colombian terrorist called the Wolf blows up an office block in front of him. Despite promises from the FBI and CIA that the killer will be brought to justice, the mendacity of corrupt politicians stalls the manhunt and Gordy stomps off to Colombia to find and kill the Wolf. Cue the impressive car chases, explosions, toe-curling torture scenes and everything else that will reinforce the American view that all Hispanics from the Central American region are greasy, venal, vicious killers and rapists.
In other words, Collateral Damage is a generic big screen action movie from Hollywood – popcorn fodder for the PlayStation generation. But that was before 11 September 2001. When the unthinkable happened and a scarcely credible scenario for a future Hollywood crash-bang-wallop show came to life before the horrified eyes of not just America but the whole world it altered the idea of what was acceptable as entertainment from Hollywood. Collateral Damage was due for release but there was no appetite either for the bogus heroics of Arnie or to see more office blocks explode, so the movie was put back until now. Nothing has changed in the movie, but it now seems to resonate with some of the angst and horror and revulsion we all felt at such a vision forced on us by the 24-seven media on that memorable day. For many the similar plotline, albeit with Latin American terrorists rather than Islamic militants, is just too abhorrent to be taken as entertainment. But Collateral Damage still exists and will do so for years to come.
On a superficial level the movie is well made, as should be expected from the director of The Fugitive, Andrew Davis. The action set pieces and stunts all play out as they should do, and there’s a reassuringly high body count of dead baddies to satisfy the movie’s moral point of view. The most surprising aspect for me of the whole movie is how restrained Arnie is as the lead character – he still does all the heroic shtick you expect from him, but he looks older and perhaps not as pumped up as usual. Age is catching with him and the brush with mortality during his heart scare a few years ago has finally curbed some of the overconfidence that used to make up his screen persona. Arnie will never be a great actor but he does make Gordy Brewer a character you can sympathise and even identify with. Whether that is down to his acting or a resonance from the Twin Towers disaster I don’t know. It still doesn’t make Collateral Damage a better than average action flick but there’s hope that one day Arnie will surprise us all and find a role that will transcend his screen persona.