Collateral Damage (15)

Review by Jack Foley

It's been a long time since Arnold Schwarzenegger last made a film that was worth getting excited about. Ever since Batman and Robin, the Austrian star has been counting down the projects until Terminator 3, with the likes of End Of Days and The Sixth Day failing to capture the public's imagination.

Collateral Damage, however, has the dubious distinction of being Arnie's most controversial movie to date; but even this had little to do with the star himself, more world events.

The film concentrates on the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a US city, in this case Los Angeles, and one man's efforts to gain some form of justice for the innocent people who lost their lives as a result.

It was due for release in America last autumn but given the sensitive nature of its subject matter post-September 11, it was put back. And during its opening 20 minutes or so, Andrew 'The Fugitive' Davis's film is likely to strike a chord with a nation still licking its wounds.

But then Arnie takes over and the rest, as they say, is farcical. The bombing in question, which claims the lives of Arnie's wife and son, is credited to Colombian rebel leader El Lobo (The Wolf), and was intended as a form of protest about US involvement in his country's civil war. The innocent casualties are written off as the 'collateral damage' of the title.

When politics take over, however, and El Lobo looks set to escape, Arnie's grieving fireman undertakes the task of gaining revenge himself, travelling to South America to administer his own form of justice.

The remainder of the film resembles the type of action flick which helped stars such as Arnie, Stallone and co make their money in the Eighties; but which seem curiously dated today.

Audiences are expected to believe, therefore, that Arnie can drift in and out of some of the most hostile jungle terrains of war-torn Colombia unnoticed (or rather, wearing a hat for cover), rigging up home-made bombs as he pleases.

Not everything goes to plan, however, and the final, sweaty conclusion takes place back in Washington, where El Lobo is plotting another explosive message at the heart of the political capital.

To be fair, Arnie is as entertaining as ever, in his own special way, and with a support cast including John Turturro, John Leguizamo, Elias Koteas and Francesca Neri, there are some watchable moments. But any attempt to debate any serious issues relating to terrorism and America's answer to it are lost amid some truly banal dialogue and a whole host of explosions.

And it is during these moments that the film really comes a cropper. Bad dialogue and terrible quips used to be Arnie's trademark, but the quips are gone and with them, any sense of fun.

Davis's explosions, while impressively staged, also verge on the pornographic and given their impact, sit uncomfortably with the rest of proceedings, while the supposed twists are signposted a mile off. It is little wonder, therefore, that the film itself failed to ignite at the US Box Office.

Arnie may still be able to snap necks and trade blows with the best of them on-screen, but the rest of the movie lacks any punch given the harsh reality of its subject matter away from the silver screen.