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Sabotage (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 15, 2023



Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Mireille Enos, Martin Donovan, Kevin Vance, Troy Garity, Mark Schlegel, Ned Yousef, Maurice Compte, Michael Monks, Tim Ware, Gary Grubbs and Ralf Moeller.

Screenplay by Skip Woods and David Ayer.

Directed by David Ayer.

Distributed by Open Road Films.  109 minutes.  Rated R.

Over the last few years, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been slowly been trying to get his acting career back on track after taking a several year side-track sabbatical in which he concentrated on fucking up California’s economy.  (Though, honestly, by the time Schwarzenegger tricked his way into his “Governator” role his acting career was pretty much on the downslide, anyway.)

Now his once-promising political career is pretty much wreckage in the rear view mirror, so Schwarzenegger has decided to try to answer the rhetorical question: Does the world need another action star who can easily qualify for AARP?  After all, Sylvester Stallone has gotten a slight career revival with his 80s action All-Star franchise The Expendables (which Schwarzenegger also appeared in, but in tasteful cameo appearances), and back in the Reagan administration Stallone and Schwarzenegger were arguably the two biggest stars in Hollywood.  There must be someplace left for Schwarzenegger in modern Hollywood.

However, after missteps into bad formula with his early return roles in the Stallone team-up Escape Plan and The Last Stand (he co-starred with Johnny Knoxville, for Chrissakes!), it’s already obvious that he is due a change in course.  (Though, truth be told, no one ever really suggested he made good films even in his glory days.)

Sabotage sounded like it may be the kind of serious project that may point Schwarzenegger into an intriguing new career direction.  The movie was written and directed by talented, respected filmmaker David Ayer, who has made a career chronicling greed and avarice in law enforcement (in such films as Training Day, Dark Blue, End of Watch and Harsh Times.)  Ayer has surrounded Schwarzenegger with a very strong supporting cast, including Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams and Terrence Howard.

Of course, one problem right off the bat is a simple one that has dogged Schwarzenegger throughout his career.  Schwarzenegger simply isn’t a particularly good actor.  He has trouble showing any type of emotion and even 30-some years into his career, he reads his lines as if doing so in a second language.  (In fairness, the Austrian actor is doing just that, but English has been his primary language for over 40 years now, you’d think he’d have gotten used to it by now.)  Surrounded by good actors, his inability is thrown into even starker relief.

Plus, sadly, Schwarzenegger no longer has his impressive physique to fall back on.  Despite the fact that the movie makes a point of showing a scene in which Schwarzenegger pumps some iron and another scene in which he dismissively mocks a superior’s body fat ratio, the guy is looking a little soft and doughy in the series of golf shirts and grandpa pants he wears through out Sabotage.  It’s not surprising that he is the one member of his crew that does not have a scene with his shirt off.

However there are enough buff guys in his group that no one will really notice.  Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Walthon, leader of a top DEA undercover squad.  The group is so far undercover, in fact, that even when not in the field they act like a gang of particularly surly bikers: starting random fights in strip clubs, bullying men and women who happen to cross their path, drinking wildly and sexually taunting the one female team leader (who seems able to give as well as she takes).  They all have macho nicknames – Breacher, Monster, Pyro, Smoke, Grinder, Tripod, etc. – and all exude testosterone like… well characters in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Eight months before the beginning of the action, Breacher’s wife and son were kidnapped, tortured and killed by a Mexican drug cartel.  Months later, when the squad is about to do a huge, violent drug bust, we watch them steal $10 million from the take.  However, somehow this heist was figured out and the money disappears, causing the crew to nearly get their careers ruined when they are suspected of taking the missing money.

So they’re not only jerks, they are thieves.  And they think it’s okay to be pissed off because they are being accused of a crime – which they did commit – but they just did not get the proceeds from.  However, apparently the cartel does not know that, because team members start getting violently killed off.

So right away, this film has a big hole where the heroes are supposed to be.  Usually in Ayer’s films, there is at least one good guy for the audience to relate to – Ethan Hawke in Training Day or Michael Peña in End of Watch – but truth is all of the characters in Sabotage, even Arnie’s team leader and Olivia Williams’ outside homicide detective, are complete assholes.  It’s hard to feel much as they are killed off, because each and every one of them is such a complete chore to spend time with.

As the film starts careening from one violent set piece to another, the audience starts to wonder what the whole point of the story is.  None of the characters is registering enough to get us all worked up about what is happening to them, and frankly it seems like they brought a lot of it all on themselves.

Of course, it seems that even Ayer was not sure what he wanted to say with his film, at least judging by the two radically different alternate endings included on the Blu-ray.  Neither makes more sense than the one they ended up on – in fact both would need a certain amount of story tweaking to work with the film that preceded them – but it gives the film a certain randomness that any character could die at any moment on a coin flip.

If Ayer can’t be bothered to figure out his storyline, why should we?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 13, 2014.

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