“Sabotage” is almost a good movie. There are some interesting ideas, compelling performances, and gritty action sequences floating around, but it all never really comes together.
It is an ambitious movie that never meets its aspirations, which means it is hard to enjoy even if you just want to watch stuff go boom.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Breacher, the head of an elite DEA deep-cover task force that looks and acts like a bunch of Oakland Raiders linebackers on a weekend trip to Tijuana.
We meet this rowdy crew as they are in the act of stealing $10 million from a drug cartel’s safe house. The money almost immediately goes missing and soon after team members begin getting bumped off one by one as mystery surrounds the location of the money and the party responsible for the murders.
Hey, this movie doesn’t sound half bad. Throw writer/director David Ayer (writer of “Training Day” who helmed the decent cop flick “End of Watch) into the mix and things sound even more promising.
There’s even the surprisingly solid supporting cast as Breacher’s team (all given goofy American Gladiators nicknames like “Monster,” “Pyro” and “Grinder”) sports some well-known actors like Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard, a “hey, it’s that guy” heavyweight in Max Martini and an all-star roster of television actors like Josh Holloway (“Lost,” “Intelligence”), Joe Manganiello (“True Blood”) and Mireille Enos (“The Killing”).
Plus the homicide detectives investigating the murders are the wonderful Olivia Williams (who gets a pass even though her southern accent fades in and out like a late-night, AM-radio talk show) and Harold Perrineau (“Lost,” “Oz”).
So what went wrong? Well first and foremost “Sabotage” violates a cardinal rule everyone understood in the 1980s: if you are going to have a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger don’t surround him with actors that are better than he is.
Arnold just floats through this movie like a hulking piece of driftwood. I don’t think it is his age preventing him from doing what he does best, as proven by a scene near the end of the movie where he stoically mows through a bar in Mexico (which, incidentally, is probably what this whole movie should have been) as he did in his prime.
I just think the sun has set on his particular brand of action flick and Arnold looks glaringly out of place in the era of quick-edits and internally-conflicted heroes.
The other big problem is that the movie’s central mysteries unravel upon themselves and in the end, most of the characters’ motivations don’t make a whole lot of sense.
You can tell that Ayer is toying with themes on the psychological toll of undercover work surrounding Beacher’s team of hard-partying, morally-lax, heavily-tattooed warriors; but gets distracted by putting a high-polish shine on the hyper-violent gunplay.
I am hardly a pearl-clutcher when it comes to movie violence but be forewarned that “Sabotage” is particularly grisly. When we find one of the first victims disemboweled and nailed to the ceiling we have a pretty good idea of what we’re in for the rest of the way out.
The person to come out of all this in the best shape is probably Enos, a talented actress who’s been primarily featured in buttoned-downed, restrained performances. Her bawdy, unhinged turn here is a bit of a revelation, like a young, hard-throwing pitcher who shows up after the offseason and starts dropping in curveballs.
I found myself rooting for “Sabotage” to pull it all together because it has been a while since we had a quality, hard-nosed action/thriller. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to have to keep waiting.
“Sabotage” is rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity, and drug use.