Of all the coincidental overlaps between Collateral Damage and our own terrorist tragedy (valiant firemen, murderous anti-American fanatics, innocents who die in a bombed building), there’s one that makes the movie look even dumber than it would have before. When the terrorist mastermind, a Colombian guerrilla known as the Wolf, appears on videotape wearing a black hood, he looks, next to Osama bin Laden, about as threatening as a third-grade bully. It’s part of the film’s topical disconnect that the Wolf and his band of thugs, who stand around in Che Guevara berets spewing anti-U.S. rhetoric, are so vague in their hatred that we have no idea what they stand for. Are we supposed to think that the drug money that rules Colombia has fueled a nuevo Marxist revolution?
A Los Angeles fireman, Gordon Brewer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), having lost his wife and son in that attacked building, sets off for Colombia to seek vengeance the way a real man does – with his bare hands. As he travels upriver through Panama, the impersonal direction of Andrew Davis (was ”The Fugitive” a fluke, or what?) threatens to turn ”Collateral Damage” into a cross between ”Apocalypse Now” and a bad Steven Seagal movie.
Schwarzenegger, at 54, is long past being able to run, leap, and knuckle people’s heads in with his old Teutonic vigor. (He and the equally sedentary Seagal ought to team up for a thriller reunion of kick-butt ’80s vigilantes; they could call it ”Armchair Armageddon.”) The result is an ”action film” mired in stasis. The ending piles on the potboiler mayhem, but it’s telling that Schwarzenegger’s climactic catchphrase is down to one measly word. This time, he’s the luggage.