Review: Damage (2009)

Damage (2009)

Directed by: Jeff King | 107 minutes | action | Actors: Steve Austin, Walton Goggins, Donnelly Rhodes, Jorge Montesi, Lynda Boyd, William B. Davis, Laura Vandervoort, Scott McNeil, Clifton MaCabe Murray, Giles Panton, Paul Jarrett, Eric Keenleyside, Christina Jastrzembska, Tony Bailey, Katelyn Mager, Stephen E. Miller, Reese Alexander, Phillip Mitchell, Adrian Holmes, Ryan Smale, Kajan Johnson, Kim Carlton, Glenn Ennis, Eduardo Noda

‘Damage’ is a straightforward brawl film starring Steve Austin as the taciturn hero John Brickner who beats up men in the illegal fighting circuit to help other people. Brickner has just been released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for strangling a man. Of course in self-defense, because Brickner has a noble character.

That becomes clear when Veronica (Lynda Boyd), the widow of the man he killed, enlists Brickner’s help. Thanks to her letters, he was released early and she wants him to raise $150,000 for the heart transplant of her 8-year-old daughter Sarah. Brickner doesn’t have that money, with a job in construction and an evening job as a bouncer in a bar. Coincidentally (ahem), the likeable waitress Frankie (Laura Vandervoort) has a relationship with the slippery whiner Reno Paulsaint (Walton Goggins), who promotes illegal fights. Brickner soon clashes with a slew of opponents, each more psychopathic than the next. However, growing problems are emerging. First, Brickner is fired by his sarcastic foreman (who is successfully animated by Brickner immediately after a heart attack). Then Veronica turns out that Reno has all kinds of debts outstanding, which Brickner – with his good heart – will also try to solve.

There hasn’t been much time in the predictable scenario of ‘Damage’, which strings one cliché after another. You may not expect more from a B-movie, but it has all been taken from the “how to write a screenplay: 101 tips and examples” manual. Goggins and Vandervoort do their best in their supporting roles, which should give the film some weight. In addition, the makers have added all kinds of superfluous plot lines about a disabled pawnbroker, the alcoholic promoter Deacon and the wealthy financier Veltz (William Davis, best known as the “Cigarette Smoking Man” from ‘The X-Files’). They make things unnecessarily complicated, because they underline again and again that Brickner is a “good guy” and that the awake viewer has long noticed.

For a storyline that responds to sentiment and the ‘rough bolster, white pit’ protagonist, an actor is needed who can convey this. The leading role, however, is for Steve Austin, who may have a rough charisma as a fighter, but not exactly as a sensitive good guy who cares so much for others. Born Steven Anderson in Texas, Austin made his name as a professional wrestler under his stage name Steve Williams and later Steve Austin. He borrowed that last surname from the capital of his native state. During his time as a WWE/WWF wrestler, he was known as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and became one of the greatest champions. A switch to television and film was obvious, especially after he slowly started to wind down his professional career.

A supporting dramatic role is beyond Austin’s capabilities, who seems to have only a few facial expressions (mainly pain and anger) in his repertoire and who manages to express himself verbally mainly with growls and in sentences of no more than six words. His longest piece of text is a monologue at the very beginning of the film, when he tells that killing someone stays with you for the rest of your life. Fortunately for him, he can quickly use his fists in the battles he must engage in to finally fight the dangerous Timmons. So it’s the fights that matter most.

There is plenty of fighting (there is even a wrong 80s style montage with ditto music). Fans will especially enjoy this, although some fights are filmed chaotically and it can hardly be called realistic even within the context. The outcome is predetermined – letting a child die is of course out of the question, so Brickner has to win – so that all injuries and setbacks can only result in the ultimate fight against Timmons. That final battle is a lot less memorable than some in the earlier “rounds.”

Within the genre ‘Damage’ is a dime-a-dozen film, but for Austin fans there is plenty to do to get through the relatively long running time (100+ minutes).

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