Delayed from its original release date because of alleged plot similarities to the September 11 terrorist attacks, “Collateral Damage” looks and feels very much like the kind of films that both Schwarzenegger and Davis made before they earned respectability. Clumsily violent, gratuitously sadistic, obvious and obtuse, it's the sort of film that might have gone straight to video if not for the personalities involved. Shamelessly structured on the familiar “Death Wish”/“Mad Max”/“Gladiator” paradigm that transforms loving fathers and husbands into vengeful vigilantes when their loved ones are killed, “Collateral Damage” casts Arnold as Gordy Brewer, a Los Angeles firefighter who witnesses the downtown car bombing that takes out his wife and son. Claiming responsibility is “El Lobo,” aka “The Wolf,” a Colombian rebel leader opposed to American meddling in his country's civil war. But Gordy doesn't care about El Lobo's politics. He's a murderer, pure and simple, who must be made to pay. So when bureaucrats and diplomats manifest their usual impotence, Gordy takes matters into his own hands and heads for Colombia to wreak the kind of havoc that only Arnold Schwarzenegger can get away with.
If not for the timely and unfortunate similarities to real events, there would be nothing to distinguish “Collateral Damage” from any other lackluster action movie of its kind. It's a preposterous, formulaic excuse for nonstop mayhem, with a host of better actors--John Leguizamo, John Turturro, Elias Koteas, Harry J. Lennix--utterly wasted in either thankless cameos or parts so small they might as well have been handled by extras. The casting of Maori actor Cliff Curtis, previously best known for his part in “Once Were Warriors,” as the terrorist “El Lobo,” is even more problematic in that Curtis doesn't look remotely Colombian. Italian actress Francesca Neri, as Curtis' wife, fares somewhat better, though her considerable talents, like those of her colleagues, are ill-served by the story's mechanical contrivances.
With or without September 11, “Collateral Damage” is damaged goods--stale from the get-go and unfit for human consumption. Audiences deserve better from both Schwarzenegger and Davis. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis, John Leguizamo and John Turturro. Directed by Andrew Davis. Written by David Griffiths and Peter Griffiths. Produced by Steven Reuther and David Foster. A Warner Bros. release. Action. Rated R for violence and some language. Running time: 115 min