The plot is vintage Arnold. He plays firefighter Gordon Brewer, who is drawn into international terrorism when his wife and son are blown up in a bombing carried out by Claudio ("The Wolf") Perrini. In pre-9/11 movies, the U.S. is nearly as evil as the terrorists, as the perennial bumbling evil C.I.A./NSA secret agents do absolutely anything at all costs by any means to get their way -- just like the terrorists. At the moment, that plot line seems a dubious one. When Brewer figures out that the ever politically squishy U.S. government isn't going to catch the Wolf (to avoid ruffling the feathers of the Columbian government), he decides to do it himself, tracking the Wolf through Panama to the dense jungles of Columbia, where he spends as much time dodging evil U.S. agents as he does hiding from evil Columbian guerrillas.
The movie is full of the now vintage Schwarzeneggerian repertoire of narrow-eyed stares and clunky one liners and explosion after explosion. And let's face it, Arnold is no action adventure spring chicken. His face is lined, his visage distinctly middle-aged. We see him in relatively few action sequences, and he is undoubtedly keeping platoons of stunt men working, judging from the credits.
Watching the film, you can't help but identify with the helplessness of a man who sees his family blown to bits for no particular reason by murderous fanatics who use high-blown rhetoric to justify their butchery. I suppose there are lots of people who wish they could get their hands on Osama Bin Laden's throat.
What makes Black Hawk Down so jarring and effective a film is that it's about a real story. U.S. soldiers really did find themselves in a horrific shoot-out in Somalia, and really did behave heroically under awful pressure. These same soldiers are now crawling around the hills of Afghanistan, their cause clear and powerful. That movie is thus a terrific salute to ordinary people who have to take a deep measure of themselves in extraordinary situations.
But Schwarzenegger's clunky ham-handedness is diminished, not enhanced by reality. The movie is too long, the ending loopy. What was once an entertaining Hollywood cartoon figure now just seems a dinosaur, his sensibility outdated and irrelevant. Schwarzenegger has made some first-rate action stuff. His Terminator series was great (he's making another). He ought to ride off into the sunset while he still has his dignity and pride, and acknowledge that while he had a great ride, the reality of the world has finally overtaken him.