Director: David Ayer
Writers: Skip Woods, David Ayer
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard
Release date: March 28th, 2014
Distributor: Open Road Films
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: Schwarzenegger’s aura.
Worst part: The unlikable supporting characters.
Here’s a question, Hollywood: Whatever happened to guns in popular cinema? Over the past few years, studios have put down their guns and picked up everything else in sight. Noticeably, blockbusters try, and more often than not fail, to one-up those that come before them. Gleefully, Tinsel-town’s biggest and baddest action star has returned to the big screen to overshadow everything around him. Sabotage, despite irking nuances out of its dynamic performers, underwhelms more often than it enthrals.
Obviously, I’m referring to bodybuilder/action-movie icon/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a previous review, I stated that he has “lived the life”. Returning to the silver screen after a string of controversies, the Governator’s latest effort is nowhere near as profound and intriguing as its lead’s reputation. Unworthy of Schwarzenegger’s aura, Sabotage is hyperactive and lazy simultaneously. This action-thriller – based to a certain extent on Agatha Christie’s seminal story Ten Little Indians – tries to fit round bullets into square targets. As cheesy as this metaphor seems, the movie clings onto a specific level of corniness to propel its static and conventional narrative. Whilst reading the synopsis, anyone with a basic understanding of plot mechanics will be able to predict where this action-thriller is going. Sabotage follows a no-nonsense group of DEA agents known for shooting first and insulting one-another later. Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharthon, the leader of this outrageous unit. Known for his immaculate reputation, Breacher leads with his swagger and precise technique. His team, however, is made up of delusional and arrogant warriors. Rounded out by James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bruce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel), the unit goes guns blazing into every assignment.
Here is the thing about Sabotage – it’s neither good nor bad. In fact, it hits the 50% mark from the get-go and rarely shifts above or below that point. However, though it could have been worse, we should not commend this big-budget actioner for being mediocre. With better material, it could’ve been a transcendent return to form for Schwarzenegger. Director/co-writer David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Street Kings and End of Watch) yet again takes on LA’s ‘finest’ and presents his creations as machismo-driven outlaws. The whodunit shades kickstart after $10 million goes missing from a raid. With our characters being picked off one by one, Ayer and Skip Woods’ dumfounding screenplay grinds on the consciousness. Taking on corruption and interrogation techniques, these intriguing concepts are dropped in favour of car chases, gun fights, and horrific murders. In addition, like the team itself, the movie itself, from the opening torture sequence onward, barges through each unrelenting and abrasive moment. The story inexplicably sticks to its overwhelming and repulsive convictions. After barging headlong into a cartel safe house, one of many vile and cruel set pieces, the narrative takes several meandering and laughable turns. Sabotage, inexplicably, distorts its simplistic plot with a fiery mean streak and idiotic twists. Intent on dousing the audience in blood, the movie immediately kick-starts its unending rampage. Exploding heads and inappropriate gags turn this actioner into a nightmarish ordeal.
“Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are just getting dead.” (Sugar (Terence Howard), Sabotage).
For better or worse, this movie’s only memorable trait is its lead’s nostalgia-drenched glow. Like the Terminator, this celebrity refuses to slow down despite his damaged physical and psychological status’. Standing above the material, credit goes to Schwarzenegger for taking on this gritty and relentless role. Taking inspiration from John Wayne, Schwarzenegger’s post-political-career resurgence is seemingly mimicking the western-era icon’s work ethic. In the final few minutes, Arnie’s wish is granted as the movie transitions into dark revenge-thriller mode. Sporting a grimacing look and cowboy hat, it’s nice seeing the ageing star embracing his limitations. However, overshadowing the lead character’s magnetism, the supporting characters hamper this otherwise diverting experience. Spitting one-liners and evil-eyed glares at one another, commendable character actors like Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau suffer significant career damage here. Sadly, almost everyone in this intriguing ensemble turns potentially gripping moments into hammy and ridiculous hindrances. Despite their loyalty to themselves and the job, these are some of modern Hollywood’s most detestable characters. To them, beating up bouncers and injecting illicit substances on company time are acceptable actions. Worthington, Manganiello, and Enos overcome hideous dialogue to come out relatively unscathed. However, Holloway and Howard are given little to do in two-dimensional roles.
Confidently, Schwarzenegger’s guile and confidence shimmer across tinsel-town. However, Sabotage, despite its engaging action sequences and alluring performers, refuses to get out of its own way. Attempting to take on multiple genres and plot-threads, Arnie’s latest action-thriller is little more than a destructive and forgettable ordeal.