When Der Arnold’s character — the improbably named Gordon Brewer — loses his passport in Collateral Damage, someone did him the favor of shaving a couple of years off his age for the insert shot of the document. Too bad, it never occurred to anyone in the make-up department to do him a similar favor. It’s not the only problem with his latest offering. Let’s face facts: Arnold is just too damned old to be believable as Mr. Action Hero — a fact more than borne out by the frequent obvious use of a 20-odd-year old stunt double. Making matters that much more painful are some of the lamest CGI effects ever to disgrace the screen, attempting to bamboozle us into believing that Arnold can lick his weight in wildcats. (I have never seen anything — at least this side of a Godzilla movie — as hokey as Arnold bobbing around in raging CGI waters). Warner Brothers probably did Schwarzenegger a favor by deciding that it was an inappropriate film to release a few weeks after the events of Sept. 11, but they’d have done him a bigger one had they shelved Collateral Damage permanently. Whatever else it is or isn’t, the film is a classic example of a performer running back to the safety of the tried and true — a lame-brained attempt to return to Arnold 101 after the critical drubbing and lackadaisical box office of The Sixth Day. The Sixth Day may not have been very good, but at least it tried to do something a little different. Collateral Damage clings to the familiar, in complete denial of its star’s age and anything approaching originality or believability. When Collateral Damage opens, we find Arnold the fireman (yes, he plays a fireman this time) rescuing an old lady from a burning building with typical Schwarzeneggerian heroics. Ah, but this is mere set-up. Within 10 minutes, we’ve been introduced to his family — the requisite gorgeous 20-something wife and 10-year-old son — and managed to have them killed off by a terrorist’s bomb when they stop for a hot dog at a sidewalk cafe. (I’m often warned about the dangers of eating hot dogs, but as an object lesson, this seems extreme.) None too surprisingly, Arnold can’t get no satisfaction from the feds as concerns getting justice for his dead loved ones. So he opts to head for Colombia to take matters into his own hands (yes, this does start to sound like the testosterone-soaked version of In the Bedroom — as well as the plot of a lot of other Arnold actioners). From here on, the film is a preposterous ragbag of improbable Arnold derring-do, unwieldy plot contrivances, cardboard characters, outbreaks of absurdity (hands up, everyone who really believes that Colombian terrorists off their screw-up lackeys by forcing king snakes made up to resemble coral snakes down their throats?), bits of other movies and explosions — lots and lots of explosions. The problem with this is that it quickly hits the ho-hum factor, especially since the only surprises are the few minutes you might spend wondering just what the devil Elias Koteas, John Turturro and John Leguizamo are doing in this movie. (At least they’re smart enough to absent themselves from most of the proceedings.) There were chances for some political observations in the story — especially as concerns the role of the CIA in the plot — but either they were just missed, or there was no way Conan the Conservative was getting within a hundred miles of that idea. In the end, Collateral Damage delivers a lot of things blowing up, a handful of unintentional amusement and very little else.
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