“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is one of the reasons professional wrestling (and World Wrestling Entertainment) did not go bankrupt in the 1990s, and for that I will always respect him. He was a great entertainer and every accolade he gained inside that squared circle was well-earned. Unfortunately, in the world of film, these accolades do not mean jack; you have to start from the bottom rung and work your way back up to gain respect in Hollywood. Just because you “play fought” inside of a ring doesn’t mean you can excel anywhere else. If these people watch the movie Damage, to be released on DVD in March, they would probably feel vindicated for thinking this way. Under no circumstance should this film be perceived as something of genius or even of true quality…but at the same time, it is entertaining and doesn't end up making you regret watching it.
Damage stars Austin as John Brickner, a recently paroled convict who is trying to find his place in the world after spending four years behind bars for manslaughter. While trying to sort out the pieces, getting a job at a construction company, Brickner meets Reno (Walton Goggins, front runner for fakest sounding real name ever) and his girlfriend Frankie (Laura Vandervoot), who offer him a different kind of job: an underground fighter.
There is big money, sure, but John has decided to go the pacifist route after his release from jail. That is, until the widow of the man he murdered comes to John, telling him her daughter needs a heart transplant and she is hoping he can pay for it. Lacking the funds, and feeling guilty over her husband’s death those many years ago, John eventually agrees and starts fighting in shady places for shady people, for the chance to get the “six figure fight” against the top fighter in the circuit. Along the way, John forms a friendship with Reno and Frankie, who also have some problems of their own trying to pay the debt owed to construction tycoon Veltz (William B. Davis).
Come on folks, if you have ever watched an action movie before, you have probably run across this sort of plot: guy goes into underground fighting circuit to win money for a cause. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and to be honest, the plot itself is kind of ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but if I was looking to hit someone up for 250 grand, I would not ask a man who just got out of prison and thus probably doesn’t have it. I also somehow doubt that a small Washington town has that deep an underground fighting circuit, one that seems to have rules, even if there are no referees. The bosses of these different fighting arenas are your typical bland bosses: bloodthirsty and crooked. The fights themselves are held in weird locations, like the top of a truck. The acting itself is pretty suspect and downright awful (Vandervoot looks like she’d rather be back on Instant Star), and everything from the cinematography to the music screams “low budget”.
At the same time, I found myself enjoying Damage, despite the stupidity of it all. It is a good B-movie, meant to entertain and not enthrall. The flimsy plot is just a way to have a whole lot of blood get shed and it’s easy to forgive it for its holes. Austin does a very good job in the lead, and has the potential to be an action star if given the right roles (The Condemned, WWE Films’ only good release, is a good example). He has charisma and he’s very believable in what little acting he is actually asked to do. I just couldn’t help but feel bad though, because he is obviously capable of so much more than this. But here he is while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson rakes in the cash with his latest kid’s film.
The fighting itself is brutal and not horribly choreographed for a cheap film. The blood flows freely and it caused me to wince and audibly go “OH!” at points, which is what any movie of this sort should hope to elicit from its audience. The locations, especially the final fight of the film, are unbelievable but because of it, are actually kind of cool.
Damage is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, and if you’re a film snob, you won’t be able to forgive its hole filled plot, bargain basement presentation, and suspect acting. If you’re someone who loves a good B-movie, however, you will probably find some entertainment in its action and its lead. In the grand spectrum of things, you could do a lot worse…like, say, watch The Tooth Fairy or The Marine 2.
Damage is released on DVD March 23, 2010.