Friday, May 1, 2009

The Arnold Project #11: Collateral Damage

A typical Hollywood actioner where a fireman who loses his wife and kid to a terrorist attack goes to singlehandedly take out those responsible, in the face of inept government bureaucracy wasn't what we were looking for in the wake of 9/11. We get a perfect storm of a miscast Arnold as fireman Gordy Brewer, the script changes made in the wake of real terrorism, and the ludicrous idea of having a Schwarzenegger flick where he can't use guns, making Collateral Damage a uniquely intolerable entry in his ouerve.
He doesn't kill anyone with saws and fire. Ripoff!

Stuck in the '90s, the terrorists are Colombians; originally they were Libyan, but this was the era when Hollywood scrambled for less ethnic villains. I guess Colombian is a middle ground between Russian mobster (the go-to bad guy of the late 90's) and Middle Eastern. There's probably a chart somewhere. There was supposed to be a hijacking, but that was scrapped for obvious reasons. It also suffers from the Elias Koteas curse; he's a good actor, but it seems like just about everything he touches turns to crap. I think he gets a good one about every ten years: Zodiac (2007), Gattaca (1997), um... Tucker the Man and His Dream (1988). There are a few others clustered around those, but I think my theory is sound.
I'm sorry that my presence cursed this film

So, Colombian guerrillas detonate a car bomb near a cafe, to hit a Colombian general and some CIA agents who've fought them; Gordy spoke to a cop right before the bomb went off, and realizes he was one of the bad guys. After smashing up the office of some apologists, and seeing his emasculated government negotiate with terrorists- something Elias Koteas's CIA Agent Peter Brandy reminds us to never do- Arnie hops a plane to Colombia to hunt "the Wolf" himself.

Directed by Andrew Davis- who's given us The Fugitive, Holes, and the two (relatively) best Steven Seagal movies Above the Law and Under Siege- Arnie of course has to fall down an immense waterfall, in the absence of a huge dam for Tommy Lee Jones to chase him into. We soon remember that Davis also gave us Code of Silence, the Chuck Norris movie with the robot. This movie is almost 2 hours long, fitting for a thriller with twists and turns, but not something like this, where you're either with us or against us. The bad guy- El Lobo- is so evil that when you fail him, he has his henchmen shove a living snake down your throat. It doesn't get more black and white than that.
Forgive my Canadianness! I am with you, not against you!

Gordy gets picked up by the corrupt police shortly after arriving, and in prison he meets Canadian Sean- John Turturro, playing both sides of course. Gotta watch them Canadians, they're slippery like maple syrup. When the terrorists conveniently attack the prison, the convolutions of getting Arnie through the plot without any guns begin to show. They cut the bars with a rescue saw, and being a fireman he knocks the guy out and uses it himself. If he killed one bad guy with it, I'd know I was in an Arnold movie, but no such luck. He gets the magic ticket of a Canadian passport, and heads upriver toward the terrorist camp.

The next stop is a cocaine operation, run by John Leguiziamo. He pretends to be a Germain repairman for their generator, and uses his skills as a fire investigator in reverse to do some terrorizing of his own. Then it's under the truck Cape Fear style to get into the guerrilla compound. When you willingly rent something rated 1 star on NetFlix, you know what you're getting into. Like those early 90's actioners where the good guy was only allowed to kill the bad guys accidentally, in car crashes, or by having them accidentally shoot themselves in struggles on stairwells, or having them trip and fall off cliffs, Gordy can't kill sinful drug dealers himself. Instead he has to make them fail their evil leader, so he does the dirty work. Even when he uses IEDs against them, I never saw a body count.
I am a German tourist, as you can see from my hat and disturbingly small swimshorts.

There's more convolutions; once El Lobo catches him, he keeps him alive because he saved his wife and kid from being killed by one of his home-brewed bombs. El Lobo is pussywhipped. And Elias Koteas is following Arnie the whole time by satellite, because he's handcuffed by Congress. But once an American is held hostage, all bets are off. Koteas uses this as his excuse to mow down the entire compound, children and all; the Wolf's wife defects to Arnie because "she can't take it anymore," and he falls for it.
Does she look sneaky to you? Nah.

Soon we're back in America trying to foil another bombing, and not to toot my own horn but I figured out the twist. I think you will too, if you're foolish enough to watch this. I felt hostage to the plot, waiting for it to end; one thing you never want to see in an action movie, or even a thriller, is a protagonist who seems more like a spectator. Arnie's Gordy is like an extra, dodging explosions on the set and manipulated by the real players. Of course, our hero gets his revenge, but it is ultimately unsatisfying. He gets to use a fireman's axe, and for me to not like a good ol' axe-killing, it has to be pretty stupid.

This was the last in a long line of mediocre films after True Lies, saved by the decent Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. For a decade there Arnold was more like Stallone, even T3 seemed like a parody of his great movies. He sort of had to quit and go into politics, didn't he? Let's hope he has time for a few more movies. I hope he shows up in Terminator: Salvation and the next Conan movie, even if he's not the star. But I have a feeling he's gonna lay low and come back when he's even older, for some late-career awesomeness a la Clint Eastwood.

Judgment: Remember when I said I'd kill you last? I LIED.

*drops movie off cliff*

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