Morbid curiosity drew me to "Damage." When it comes to wrestlers as actors, the end result is often hard to stomach. Most recently, John Cena and Ted DiBiase Jr tired their hand at jumping from the squared circle to the big screen and the result wasn't pretty. I finally had to throw in the towel when it came to following pro-wrestling last year, but when I was following the sport like a religion throughout the late 80s and 90s, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin ranks as an all time favorite. Austin's previous attempt at making a name for himself as a solo action star was the dull and forgettable "The Condemned." Damage comes as a bit of a downgrade, skipping theaters and arriving instead, straight to DVD.
In many ways the character of John Brickner (Austin) reminds me of Roddy Piper's portrayal of Nada in "They Live." Both are down on their luck, in Brickner's case, he's been paroled after killing a man in self-defense. He finds a job working construction, like Nada, and also wears flannel shirts. Oh, and he kicks ass like there's no tomorrow when the time comes. This lands him a nighttime job as a bouncer, which he gladly takes, because he needs $250,000. Why you ask? Well, it turns out Brickner is one of those classic characters who has a big heart and is a man of his word. While serving his time in prison, he wrote constantly to the widow of the man he killed (in self-defense) and said he would do anything he could to help her. The widow decides to cash in this favor by helping Bricker get paroled so he can foot the bill for her daughter's heart transplant.
Yes, "Damage," despite being made over 20 years after the heyday of the hackneyed 80s tough guy film, primes the narrative fire with the world's most heavy-handed clichés. If this isn't enough, Brickner's boss hates ex-cons and his parole officer only cares that he "pisses clean." Shortly after this absurdity has been established, Reno (Walton Goggins), the boyfriend of the waitress at Brickner's night job, presents Brickner with an easy way to make big money: underground fighting. Sure enough, once our newly formed trio gets rolling, we're off the first fight. Now if you were asking yourself, "Is this warehouse introduced with a panning shot showing cars pulling up and general hubbub," then you would be correct. "Damage" is completely unoriginal in every way, borrowing stock characters from every bad 80s movie, as well as c-rate story arcs, and even generic shots like the one mentioned above.
Not much of this matters though, because the price of admission is being paid for the fights, and "Damage," for the most part delivers. Austin built a career on being a no-nonsense badass brawler and Brickner is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin come to life. The fights are all staged between Austin and actors who are actual MMA fighters, so the brawling looks real, even if a handful of shots hide the lack of actual contact with obvious camera work. Jeff King's direction makes sure the fights stay focused on the fighter and wisely doesn't make Brickner invincible; he has to work for his wins, although the near comic level of damage he takes end up still making him seem unstoppable.
Clocking in at 102 minutes, "Damage" is a little too liberal with the story, both in terms of quantity and the pacing. A side plot involving Reno and an owed debt soon overshadows Brickner's story, but once things get a little interesting, it's wrapped up at a shocking pace. Any further tension hinges solely on the final fight, which technically and emotionally are a letdown compared to earlier sequences in the film. "Damage" does nothing to set itself apart from similar films and much of the draw is the novelty of seeing Austin kicking ass. For a former pro-wrestling fan, this was enough to mildly hold my interest, but for non-fans, "Damage" is nothing noteworthy.
As Fox only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the video quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
As Fox only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the audio quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
Once you get past the gimmick, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, playing his wrestling character in a straight-to-DVD action film, "Damage" is a very shallow experience. It's just a tad too long and drops the ball in the pacing department, even for a B-movie. The fight scenes are thankfully well choreographed and do a good job of focusing any fleeting attentions. Give it a rent only if you're an Austin fan or feel the need to satisfy an urge for fisticuffs. Rent It.