Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a Los Angeles firefighter who gets involved in international terrorism after witnessing his family being killed by a Colombian terrorist bomb. And he doesn't just get mad--he gets even.
In one fleeting moment, L.A. firefighter Gordy Brewer (Schwarzenegger) loses everything he ever cared about. Running late to meet his wife and young son at a downtown high-rise, the devoted family man arrives in time to witness his family instantly killed by a terrorist bomb that blows up the building. The explosion is credited to Claudio Perrini, a.k.a. ''The Wolf'' (Cliff Curtis), an infamous rebel leader in Colombia's decades-long civil war, who regards victims like Gordy's wife and son simply ''collateral damage'' in the fight for the terrorists' cause. Dem's fighting words to Gordy. He realizes that bringing the terrorist to justice is no longer a priority to anyone but himself, so he heads to war-torn Colombia to track him down alone. Of course, simply walking up to the Wolf and putting a bullet in his head is not as easy as it seems. In his hunt, Gordy becomes involved with a woman, Selena (Francesca Neri) and her young, deaf son who end up tied directly to the Wolf. Things get complicated but Gordy's resolve remains the same--get the bad guy at all costs.
Schwarzenegger doesn't really need to act in his movies--he just has to be. In Collateral Damage, however, he is required to produce a few moments of angst and grief as he witnesses his family being blown apart. Painful as it is to watch the actor try to conjure up those emotions, it thankfully passes quickly and we're back to good old Ah-nold again--shooting guns, beating the heck out of people and blowing things up. It's always good modus operandi to do what you do best. Yet, what Schwarzenegger cleverly does in his films is surround himself with people who can act--makes him look better. Curtis plays a convincing terrorist with motives not too far off from Gordy's and actually brings a humanizing element to his ultra-villain role. Neri has a pretty thankless part but gets to twist the knife at the end, and does so with great relish. The always interesting Elias Koteas as a CIA operative doesn't play the dumb cop role as cookie-cutter as it could have been, which makes his role much more palatable.
Warner Bros. definitely made a smart move when they yanked Damage from the release schedule last October and waited until now to release it. There are too many familiar scenes and references to the horrors of Sept. 11, and the rawness may have kept audiences away. But even now, they should probably still stay away. Come on, folks. This is one of the more far-fetched Schwarzenegger scenarios we've been subjected to yet. At least some of his other movies take place in the future, where things like cloning are a reality, so our willingness to suspend our disbelief comes a lot easier. Damage just gets sillier and sillier the deeper our Austrian friend goes into the Colombian jungle. For being a regular firefighter, he sure knows a lot about making bombs out of electric wire, light bulbs and natural gas. The one redeeming quality is the twist in the end (which we won't tell you in case you do decide to see the movie), but it certainly doesn't save the movie.
This is certainly substandard Schwarzenegger fare, but the film may draw an audience due to the similarities to the very real terrorism we are facing today.