No matter how intense the action sequences or how thrilling the hunt for answers in a game of espionage, it all becomes meaningless when the drama is played out over protagonists unworthy of attention. In “Sabotage,” each hero’s morals begins tainted and steadily spirals downward into utter reprehensibility. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor whose onscreen personas are typically incapable of despising, manages to swiftly void the charm through dishonorable dealings and disingenuous trickery. The story does offer a reason for all the backstabbing and deceit, but it’s not a good one. “Sabotage” often feels as if the creators viewed one too many buddy cop movies and set out to craft an anti-camaraderie film - one where a close-knit group falls apart through paranoid distrust and debilitating greed. But while alliances crumble and friendships diminish, so does the fun.
For years, a D.E.A. Special Operations Team led by John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has infiltrated and impaired powerful drug organizations. But when the group plots to steal $10 million in cash from a Rio Garza cartel bust, and someone beats them to the loot, they face disgrace and disbandment. After months of dead ends and no trace of the vanished money, law enforcement drops the investigation and Breacher is allowed to rebuild his team. But when several of their crew are executed in mysterious ways, remaining members Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joseph Manganiello), Sugar (Terence Howard), and Lizzy (Mireille Enos) must fight to stay alive, while Breacher searches for clues to the killers’ identities with the aid of homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams).
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Schwarzenegger’s performance. His insertion into this film in the first place is arguably the primary problem, since “Sabotage” is not only drastically against the grain for his style of movie, but also undeserving of his presence. The role could have been played by just about anyone and the movie would still be nearly unwatchable, considering the abundance of clichés, lack of combat sequences, and wealth of disagreeable characters. Schwarzenegger, with his undiminishing, larger-than-life persona, is really best suited for over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, action-packed, shoot-‘em-up projects - not this grim, dark, drug warfare material, heavily steeped in desperate attempts at realism. The attention to gruesome, unpleasant violence is not only unconvincing in the realm of DEA thrillers, but also a major factor that contrasts with what the Austrian bodybuilder’s heyday of moviemaking was all about.
“Sabotage” features a squad of harsh, grungy, ceaselessly cursing, constantly insulting, and generally unlikeable components. Every member is drained of the glamor and attractiveness regularly seen in Hollywood productions, replaced instead by tattoos, scars, griminess, strained militaristic jargon, and phony brotherhood that should win over only the most credulous. “We’re not a team anymore… just a gang,” confesses Monster, summing up a condition never rectified for audiences that are hoping a real hero will eventually emerge.
With all the bullying, infighting, clowning around, and drunkenness, they appear grandly incompetent - regardless of the expected jurisdictional hurdles, elusive culprits, and misdirection (or sabotage!). It certainly doesn’t help with sympathy levels as the group starts getting eliminated. “Sabotage” is oddly reminiscent of a lesser-known Kurt Russell movie from 2002, “Dark Blue,” which dumped its typically more jocundly sarcastic star into a world of corruption, revenge, graphic violence, and inner demons that just didn’t quite match his usual venture. Not coincidentally, David Ayer, who wrote and directed “Sabotage,” penned “Dark Blue.” And this new release will likely suffer the same fate of cinematic obscurity.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)