I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Damage

tn_damagecountdownlogoWhen I saw the terrible WWE Films theatrically released post-action movie THE CONDEMNED I said that I liked “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s screen persona, “his gravelly voice and his Plissken-esque don’t-give-a-fuck attitude,” and predicted that “If he was given an actual character to play in a movie by people who knew how to make a real movie, he could be at least as good as Roddy Piper.” I was probly thinking a lowbrow studio movie like a DEATH RACE or something, but this’ll do: a surprisingly compelling DTV underground fighting movie from Jeff King, the director of Seagal’s KILL SWITCH and DRIVEN TO KILL (which it just occurred to me oughta be the name of a movie where Seagal plays an ex-CIA NASCAR driver or Tokyo drifter. Coulda woulda shoulda).

mp_damageThe setup for DAMAGE is pretty much BLOOD AND BONE: guy gets out of prison, then enters fighting circuit. In this one it’s not his first choice, though. He makes a legitimate attempt at working two straight jobs (construction and bouncer), but then he’s confronted by the wife of the man he was in prison for accidentally choking to death. She tells him she wrote the letter that got him paroled. She doesn’t want his apologies, she wants $250,000 to get her daughter a heart transplant. Stone Cold is not exactly the type to start a successful software company or make wise investments that pay off, so he decides to go the “raise money through illegal underground fighting” route.

That’s the subtle cleverness of this movie. Alot of competitive fighters are in it to avenge a death (see ENTER THE DRAGON, MORTAL KOMBAT, BEST OF THE BEST, BLOOD AND BONE, etc.) but here’s a guy doing it to save a life, to redeem himself for having caused a death. It’s the opposite of a revenge movie.

I didn’t know Walton Goggins from ‘Justified’ and PREDATORS was gonna be in this, but he’s the co-lead as Reno, Stone Cold’s fight manager who himself is in all kinds of debt. So they’re both trying to work their way up to a high-paying fight, neither knowing how bad the other one needs the money. Also in the mix is Laura Vandervoort, who looks kinda like Megan Fox but doesn’t seem dumb. Apparently she’s Supergirl on the ‘Smallville’ TV show. Here she’s a waitress at the bar where Stone Cold works but also the cut woman for his fights. She used to be a nurse, but fucked it up with her drug habit. Everybody has some past failure they’re fighting against.

I also gotta give it an extra half point for taking place in Seattle, even though it was filmed in British Columbia. They don’t say Seattle out loud, but you see it as the destination on his bus, and there’s a part where Reno talks about the psychological effects of the grey skies (something that’s been used to explain everything from so-called grunge music to the Northwest’s unfortunate proliferation of serial killers). Also I noticed that people are always offering him coffee, but there are no lame jokes about fancy lattes or nothin like that.

The movie’s approach to fighting is kinda funny. Stone Cold is just a big, tough dude, he might’ve been born that way. There’s no mention at all of fighting styles or what his background is, where he learned to fight. There’s no training montages, no jogging or punching bags, not even one little workout part at the end to imply he’s been doing this all along (the FIGHTING method). Instead he just shows up, Reno tells him if the other fighter has some weakness or something, and he starts punching.

The camera work and editing are calm, you can see what’s going on. But to be honest most of the fights aren’t that exciting. Wrestling and fake bare fist boxing have a hard time competing with the acrobatic kickboxing of BLOOD AND BONE and the UNDISPUTEDs. But I’ll be damned, the characters and the plot are still interesting to me. They all have these debts they’re under, and the more they try to pay off the debts the more complicated their problems get.

It also has this theme of redemption. They’ve all kinda fucked up in the past and are looking for forgiveness. Unlike most movies like this it doesn’t come down to one tournament or match to solve all his problems. He has trouble even getting matches at all because if he’s so good why would anybody want to fight him and bet money on it? And he has to make decisions about which debts to clear when. Even when a bunch of coincidences and past good deeds intersect to put him in a great position he has to decide whether to cash it in on the heart surgery or another friend’s problem. He can’t do both. Nothing is solved easily.

On the surface it’s still pretty generic, but Stone Cold has a likability that pulls you through it. I know in wrestling he was supposed to be a bad boy, but in this he seems to have an inherent decency. He’s just a born brawler with a no bullshit attitude, doesn’t talk much, but wants justice and Doing the Right Thing to prevail. When that woman chews him out he just takes it, because he knows what he’s done to her family. When he overhears Reno telling whatsername that he’s not a good man because he choked somebody to death he doesn’t get mad about it, because he knows it’s somewhat true. He doesn’t try to run from or hide or excuse his past mistakes. The movie never even explains who the guy was that he killed or why. It’s irrelevant. The point is he fucked up, and all he can do now is keep living and trying to do better.

But when he sees that classic action movie staple, the sexually harassing assholes, he quietly leaves his beer on the bar and intervenes. He gets a few oneliners in and a good badass moment near the end when he crawls out from a pile of shoulda-killed-him, covered head-to-toe in oil, and patiently asks to continue the fight.

I don’t know, man. It doesn’t hold a candle to BLOOD AND BONE, and it doesn’t have the quirkiness or stylistic originality of FIGHTING. But somehow somebody made another surprisingly solid movie about that same topic of underground fighting, and somehow it’s interesting not as much for the action as for the drama. I found myself genuinely caring what happens to the characters. I credit the charisma of Austin, Goggins and Vandervoort, and the screenplay by Frank Hannah (the guy who wrote THE COOLER). Give Stone Cold some better fight choreography and keep going in this direction, I think you’ll really have something.

If you enjoyed this title, IMDb’s database also recommends ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.

expendables-checklist6

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 9th, 2010 at 12:17 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

37 Responses to “Damage”

  1. Fantastic. I always thought Austin would work as an actor – I’ll have to try and track this down, and rewatch All Quiet On the Western Front.

  2. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 9th, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Its got Walton Goggins in it? I’m sold. Also quite like the idea of Austin playing a stoic badass.

  3. It’s Walton Goggins from “The Shield”. At least mention something he was in that is worth watching, not shit like “Predators” and the average “Justified”.

  4. Am I the only one who thinks that Walton Goggins looks exactly like his name? I mean, if I would make a movie with a character in it named “Walton Goggins”, I would cast someone who looks exactly like this.

  5. Heh, Vern’s THE EXPENDABLES poster now looks like The Bride’s hit list in KILL BILL. Maybe he’ll go for Jet Li next in his roaring rampage of reviews!

  6. shane – pretty sure it’s the same walton goggins. I will look it up.

  7. nope – I looked it up, Walton Goggins is not in “the shield.” He is in predators, Justified and Damage. Maybe you’re thinking of Walter Googles.

  8. from the writer of THE COOLER eh? does Maria Bello show her bush and get slapped with an NC-17 rating?

  9. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 9th, 2010 at 5:56 am

    What are they? The Goggins brothers? I thought it was the same guy from The Shield that was in Justified.

  10. Theres like 6 dudes left on that poster not crossed off, gunna be a busy week for reviews eh Vern.

  11. Ace, Vern is just fucking with you. It’s the same guy from The Shield.

  12. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 9th, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Cheers Lawrence, checked it out after posting and realised I took the bate like an asshole. Still, the Goggins brothers has a ring to it.

  13. Yesterday when I posted that I wanted to see Stone Cold in a movie where he just got out of prison and wanted to settle down but instead he had to fuck shit up, I had no idea this movie existed. I meant more of thing where it’s a small southwestern town and the sheriff is always giving him a hard time and then the local bigwig wants to buy Stone Cold’s family farm but he won’t sell so he sends some roughnecks around to give him a talking to and then things escalate from there. You know, Action Movie Plot #2. I think he’d be perfect for it because he seems like such a regular blue-collar joe despite being a gigantic musclebound motherfucker.

  14. “Stone Cold is not exactly the type to start a successful software company or make wise investments that pay off,”
    though he does apparently collect antiques as a hobby and one of his favourite words to use is “trepidation”, according to Mick Foley’s autobiography. Of course, for all I know, he just bought those antiques to use for the *Glass Shatters* sound effect in his entrance theme.

  15. Hey Vern, what do you mean by “no lame jokes about fancy lattes”? Is this one of the few tough guy movie cliches I’m not aware of? What other movies does it occur in?

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    August 9th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Blitzkrieg: I think Vern was referring to one of the lazy signifiers that many films use to indicate that their film takes place in Seattle, ie. everyone there drinks fancy coffee drinks. The city is the home of Starbucks, after all. And FRAZIER probably didn’t help things either.

  17. That’s right, the latte thing is not so much something from movies, but a stereotype about Seattle. I’m not saying it’s entirely untrue, because saying there are coffee shops and carts on every block is not that huge of an exaggeration, and plain old drip coffee like you get at Dunk’n Donuts or something is not as common here. But you get sick of hearing about it so it’s refreshing to see a movie set in Seattle making references to coffee without going for those types of jokes.

  18. is Seattle really that depressing?

  19. RRA – I don’t know about Seattle, but the town I come from over here in the UK recently became infamous for a string of unconnected suicides. I got out of it as soon as I possibly could. It’s a horrible place.

    I don’t know what the heck would be going on in Seattle that so many people seem to have it so much. Some places do seem to have an “atmosphere” that just sucks the ambition and soul out of their occupants though. (We’re not talking Kairo here, but you probably know what I mean.) Is it that kind of a deal?

    Also, nobody’s picked me my next Seagal DVD to watch yet, so I’m going to go for “Kill Switch”. From Vern’s review, it sounds kinda interesting but very very flawed. I’ll have to see how it works out. Will post in the review thread when I’m done.

  20. Jareth Cutestory

    August 9th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I haven’t seen DAMAGE (at least not the DAMAGE that doesn’t feature a naked Juliette Binoche), but I like to think that an action film set in Seattle could honor the city with impromtu Pike Place nunchucks. Just slap those bad guys silly with a couple of big old fish.

    That’s what Tony Jaa would do.

  21. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 9th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Seattle had the first Starbucks? Thats like being famous for having a zombie outbreak that took over the planet. Makes me glad I came from the very middle of nowhere, where jack shit ever happened. No seriously, I’m sure its a great place.

  22. Jareth Cutestory

    August 9th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    It is my opinion that Herman Melville had the first Starbuck.

  23. Darth Irritable

    August 9th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Paul – Ever been to Wilmington Delaware? It’ll make you yearn for home.

    Brakus would drive through seven states just to avoid it.

  24. Brakus doesn’t drive. He grabs the ground and pulls until his destination comes to him.

  25. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 9th, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Herman Melville? What the fuck is a Herman Melville? Man, beast or place?

  26. Seattle seems to get a hard time, I really liked the place when I visited. The whole place just feels a lot more relaxed than the other “big” cities.

  27. I’m so happy that you didn’t end up reviewing ‘The Stranger’ for this countdown. Its like an extended episode of the old Incredible Hulk TV series, but less compelling.
    I would watch this one for Walton Goggins alone, he was outstanding in The Shield.

  28. Yeah, Starbucks started here as a small company, then grew into a corporate monster, took over the world, made smooth jazz CDs and the CEO sold the Sonics to people who chose not to buy our WNBA team the Storm, who currently have a better starting record than any professional sports team in Seattle history, plus they could create human life if they wanted to. Like everywhere else there are Starbuckses sprouting from every crack in the sidewalk, but it seems to me it’s mostly the people from the suburbs who use them. I think they’re outnumbered by the independent places with their organic fair trade shade grown what have yous.

    We also had Jones Soda but then they blew it and had to sell the company.

    I don’t think it’s that depressing here, but there are more grey skies than most places so some people try to connect that to the psychology of Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, and now the movie DAMAGE. We also get more rain than most places, but just spread across the year, not usually in extreme doses. I think the reputation is exaggerated to scare off out of state bigfoot hunters.

  29. Jareth Cutestory

    August 9th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    For my money, the exterior shots Lynch made for TWIN PEAKS in Snoqualmie and North Bend, Washington are some of the most evocative landscape images put on the screen. I guess it’s not fair to expect more than the trendy shorthand you see in stuff like SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE in more mainstream movies, but you can’t help but think the directors aren’t trying very hard. In my experience you don’t have to dig too deep into the Pacific Northwest to find some real moody stuff.

  30. no offense, but to anyone who complains about living in Seattle or any city for that matter (even LA) need to STFU, try living in a small town in Georgia, like me

  31. Los Angeles is such a fucking mess, I refuse to call it a “City” like I would with say a Chicago or NYC. Those two are cities, a united unique culture to them. L.A. is a glorified confederation with no real ties to each other beyond those hubs unless a good riot happens.

  32. Try living in Venezuela

  33. Just finished watching Austin’s latest DTVs. I have to agree with Maxiao that THE STRANGER is pretty terrible and seems like a rejected pilot for a bad tv show. Now HUNT TO KILL on the other hand is 10 times better and quite enjoyable. Better cast (Eric Roberts, Gary Daniels) (Roberts is not much in it actually, I kind of wish he had switched roles with Gil Bellows), not too much post-action crap, more interesting premise. I have to say I liked it better than DAMAGE. It was written by the same guy by the way, and directed by STEVEN SEAGAL IS A DANGEROUS MAN’s Keoni Waxman. Anyway I thought you might enjoy it.

  34. Largely agree with your review Vern. Enjoyed this one almost in spite of the fighting – surprising that Steve apparently hasn’t ever seen a punch thrown outside of the wrestling ring, and the choreography was a bit strange.

    Badass moment at the end with the oil. but you neglected to mention the swelling/inspiring music to inform us that yes, in fact, this is a badass moment.

  35. Notes on HUNT TO KILL upon today’s viewing:

    Don’t let the nifty title fool you — Stone Cold Steve Austin’s badassish Border Patrol agent is no Mason Storm.  

    Eric Roberts doesn’t even last as long as the black guy.  

    At 1 point, Austin has a guy in a narsty standing shoulder-contorting grip and the guy manages to swing at Austin’s leg or hip but you can see that the bad guy actually grimaces even worse b/c the punch hurts his hand.  Kinda badass moment for Austin.  

    50 minutes into the movie, it hits me: Is that Gary Daniels?  Oh shit it is.  My theory is that the filmatists couldn’t fully sync his schedule with the shooting schedule, so there seems to be a bunch of group shots & scenes where his character is strangely absent.  Or maybe it seems that way b/c I watched HUNT TO KILL on a little laptop not expecting/realizing Daniels is in this and also most of the “tense” moments consist of awkward medium reaction shot-filled standoffs.  

    Rope plays a prominent role in this movie.  Army guys definitely use the 550 cord braid as a way of efficiently carrying the stuff, but I’m not sure one tri-braided wristwatchband is enough rope to allow a guy to tie off to a tree and rappel down a 100 foot cliff face.  And then when he climbs back up, he eschews the rope & rock climbs instead, possibly with the help of invisible anti-gravity equipment.  And then when he’s knocked/shot back down the cliff face his path takes him down along a mostly dirt cliff face even though he just came up a mostly rocky mossy one.  

    This is a highly symbolic, metaphorical movie about the clash of urban values with roughing it in the wild values in the tradition of THE EDGE, CITY SLICKERS, CASTAWAY, TROPIC THUNDER, ALIVE, and PRIVATE BENJAMIN.  

    At one point the main bad guy scrunches his face & yells, “I DON’T LIKE YOUR FAMILY!”  

    Wait, where did that crossbow come from?  Did I just witness a crossbow ex machina?  

    Gary Daniels versus Austin
    ______Yes_______
    Not a bad fight, decent technique.  Austin appeared to have sure victory when he had Daniels’s arm if he’d dropped to his back & flexed his waist, but of course he didn’t and then Daniels got him in the guard and should have had a triangle for the chokeout win, but I guess he couldn’t get his right calf over his left ankle iIrc so Austin defies physics yet again and quickly stands out of it and a minute or 2 later he steals a weak one-liner from PREDATOR.  

    Going farther north a couple miles from Montana to Canada & there’s less snow on the ground, then there’s snow & ice, then there’s none, then finally there is.  

    Good, ridiculous final stand by the bad guy, who gets killed seemingly at least 3 times.  And yes, Austin ends this fucker with: 
    “When I hunt, I hunt to kill!”

    Way to end strong, HUNT TO KILL. 

  36. I finally got around to watching this one, and I really liked it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything. This story has been done well many times before, but like Vern said the characters and performances really make the film work. Most of the fight scenes are nothing special, but that is not the strength of this film. I was way more interested in the little character moments then any of the fights. There is really is not much more I have to add that has not already been said by Vern, or stated in this thread, but I was impressed with Austin’s performance. He is always a great physical presence, but he did a great job conveying a lot with small guessers or facial expressions. He doesn’t have that much dialogue for a leading role, but I think that combined with his often subtle performance make for a much more memorable character. I do agree with Vern that the film is no where near as good as BLOOD AND BONE, but it is an enjoyable film for any fan of badass cinema.

  37. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 30th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    The Knockout review made me address the problems in my life and get my shit together. So I wrote a list that only had one thing on it. Watch Damage. My life is now back on track, thanks Vern.

    I found the old fashioned fist fighting quite refreshing. It had a working class feel to it. The brawlers in Seattle don’t piss around with any brazilian capoeira.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>