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[whitespace] Arnie's Army

Schwarzenegger ages better than revenge genre in 'Collateral Damage'

By Richard von Busack

When an action star grows older, he has to try twice as hard, which goes against the old show-biz law "Never let 'em see you sweat." Yet Arnold Schwarzenegger's aging makes him deeper as a performer. What Schwarzenegger does in the early scenes of Collateral Damage is closer to acting than what Eastwood, let alone Stallone, does. But when this outdated one-man-army action movie grinds into gear, it's so completely familiar that no shadings its star brings to the screen can spice it up.

Schwarzenegger plays a fireman whose wife and child were accidental victims in a bombing of the Colombian Embassy in downtown Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the government is of a mind to play patty-cake with terrorists, much to the disgust of CIA field agent Elias Koteas (doing a De Niro imitation). This intransigence forces our hero to sneak into the bush to track down "El Lobo." For the benefit of the Spanish-impaired, the film helpfully translates this nom de guerre as "The Wolf." He (Cliff Curtis) is the dreaded masked leader of the "Army of Colombian Liberation." To fund their various social events, this group runs cocaine--engineered by John Turturro as a mechanic, then cooked under the supervision of John Leguizamo. These bits are at first refreshing, then irritating.

Collateral Damage, was, as is common knowledge, shelved for five months after the terrorist attacks last September. The film was made during Hollywood's pre-Sept. 11 search for ultimate-evil foreign villains (whatever happened to SPECTRE, anyway?). Yet director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) has often shown a political conscience in his career, and there is a little speech about how enduring a Yank-sponsored massacre in Guatemala turned El Lobo against the Stars and Stripes. But you have to be listening very closely to catch these few brief, almost-muttered sentences and understand what they mean.

The Arnold-film template is stronger than any political commentary; any motivation here just gets in the way of the scene of the villain badmouthing our nation: "You Americans are so naive!" If we buy this picture, that'll prove our naiveté handsomely. The pace is poor, the love interest scarcely interesting (how did Francesca Neri get collagen shots in the Colombian jungle?), the action scenes seen elsewhere in the oeuvre of Arnold, particularly Predator and Commando. An audience would be hard put to get either thrills or vicarious bin Laden revenge fantasies out of it.


Collateral Damage (R; 115 min.), directed by Andrew Davis, written by David and Peter Griffiths, photographed by Adam Greenberg and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas and John Turturro, opens Feb. 8 everywhere.

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Web extra to the February 7-13, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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