'Collateral Damage' filled with violence, ethnic bias

The new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, "Collateral Damage," already had raised a ruckus well before its opening today.

Slated for last October, it was yanked from distribution after the World Trade Center disaster because Warner Bros. feared its fictional starting point and climax - terrorist bombings aimed at Los Angeles and Washington buildings - might seem exploitative or distasteful.

Now some vocal Colombian-Americans are complaining that the movie is ethnically biased, citing the hero's hunt for Colombian bad guys in far-flung jungle villages. Undeterred, Hollywood icon Schwarzenegger presided over a Wednesday night Manhattan première, accompanied by representatives of the charitable Twin Towers Fund.

Is the movie worth the fuss naysayers are making? Yes and no. Yes, because it does paint a remarkably hostile portrait of its Latin American characters, etching nearly every Colombian as fanatical, deceitful, sadistic, or psychopathic.

The bombed-out buildings are less disturbing than the story's nasty view of people with skin darker than Schwarzenegger's.

But also no, because there's nothing special about this movie - it's just business as usual for today's debased action-movie genre. Ethnic insensitivity has been flaunted by so many recent films (including "Black Hawk Down," a current hit) that you have to wonder if Hollywood now counts on such controversies for free publicity. Scenes of bone-crunching violence and over-the-top suffering are also far from rare, although "Collateral Damage" reaches strikingly low depths.

So why raise complaints over this particular epic? It's better to criticize Hollywood's overall penchant for dehumanizing thrills. Or to simply stay home and vote with your unspent ticket money.

• Rated R; contains sadistic violence.

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