Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, filmmakers and studios became much more conscious of their products. This manifested itself in a number of ways. In a small change, Zoolander lost some brief shots of the World Trade Center via computer magic, and the trailer to Spider-Man also tossed a web gag that involved the towers.
Perhaps more significant were the delays that occurred due to the tragedy. A number of flicks were ready to hit screens - or close - but got moved back to avoid the potential appearance of crassness. John Woo’s Windtalkers was one of the longest delays, as it went from fall 2001 to summer 2002, but a number of others sat on the shelves as well.
Interestingly, it looks like all of the movies delayed due to 9/11 will perform poorly at the box office. As I write this, Windtalkers just opened last weekend. It received mediocre reviews and didn’t fare well financially; I’ll be shocked if it makes any money. Tim Allen’s erstwhile comeback vehicle Big Trouble stirred no financial pots, as it made a pathetic $7 million at US theaters.
Another potential comeback flick didn’t do much better. Yet another attempt by Arnold Schwarzenegger to regain his movie god status, Collateral Damage didn’t flop as badly as Big Trouble, but it failed to put Arnie back on top. It grabbed a very lackluster $40 million in the US, which didn’t even equal half the film’s budget.
Actually, Schwarzenegger wasn’t the only one involved with Damage who needed a comeback. Director Andrew Davis hit it big with 1993’s Oscar-nominated smash The Fugitive but he hasn’t regained that prominence over the last nine years. For his immediate follow-up, he made something called Steal Little, Steal Big. I wouldn’t be aware of its existence without IMDB. That site claims it made $6 million, but obviously it did so with no fanfare.
Much more attention greeted Davis’ next flick, 1996’s Chain Reaction. Unfortunately for Davis, that bland action film didn’t live up to expectations, as it made a mere $20 million. With Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in lead roles, 1998’s A Perfect Murder had to do better than that, and it did, but the film’s $67 million gross remained miles away from the $183 million of The Fugitive. Even Davis’ first hit - 1992’s Steven Segal piece Under Siege - topped that.
As I noted, neither Davis nor Schwarzenegger earned a comeback with Collateral Damage, and we can’t blame the aftereffects of 9/11 for its lack of success. Instead, the movie flopped simply because it wasn’t very good. At best, it provided a serviceable action flick, but it never threatened to show the spark found in the best work from its main participants.
In Damage we meet the family of Gordy Brewer (Schwarzenegger). He works as a fireman, which worries wife Anne (Lindsay Frost); at the film’s start, she experiences a nightmare about his job. Nonetheless, along with young son Matt (Ethan Dampf), they seem happy together.
That soon changes. As Gordy goes to meet the other pair at an outdoor LA plaza, a bomb explodes. It kills mother and son instantly and leaves Gordy in a state of shock. Quickly the authorities learn that this terrorist action came from Colombian fighter “El Lobo”, a figure they believe to be Claudio Perrini (Cliff Curtis). Gordy actually spoke to Perrini seconds before the blast - the terrorist impersonated a police officer - and the fireman soon goes on a relentless mission of revenge.
Gordy decides to take the law into his own hands. He plots a way to get into Colombia and track down “El Lobo” on his own. To the surprise of CIA operative Peter Brandt - who heads covert affairs in the region - Gordy actually succeeds, and he eventually infiltrates the terrorist camp. Action - and even a few surprises - ensue as he continues his quest to avenge the deaths of his loved ones.
On the positive side of the coin, I will admit Collateral Damage tossed in some moments I didn’t expect. Maybe I’m just dense, but parts of its ending took me by surprise. I can’t say there’s anything Crying Game level here, but since this kind of flick usually runs on autopilot, the modest variations made it livelier.
Otherwise, Damage seemed like a very ordinary action film. Not a bad one, per se, but one that never breaks free of the mold. It started quite poorly. The portrait of the happy family seemed sugary and simplistic, and Schwarzenegger’s attempts at emotional complexity after the bombing appeared as weak as ever. Though he’s grown over the years, the man still cannot act; when he’s supposed to look anguished, he just seemed befuddled.
In addition, the film’s main conceit was highly questionable. The might of the US government can’t find El Lobo, but one bereaved fireman locates the terrorist and infiltrates his camp with relative ease? That concept appeared absurd, and the movie didn’t make it any more believable.
The movie did get moderately more interesting as it progressed, but it failed to become genuinely lively until its conclusion. Prior to that, it came across as a pretty generic action flick. Director Davis staged the various sequences fairly well; none rivaled the impact of the legendary train crash from The Fugitive, but they did the job.
Nonetheless, I felt pretty ambivalent toward Collateral Damage. While it had some decent moments, the movie simply seemed devoid of real tension or drama for the most part. I can’t call Damage a bad action flick, but it definitely appeared very mediocre.
Footnote: whose brilliant idea was it to name Schwarzenegger’s character “Gordy”? Few men on the planet look less like a “Gordy Brewer” than Schwarzenegger. Worst name ever!