When you hear the name David Ayer, you automatically know two things about the movie you're watching: 1) there are going to be a lot of cops in it and 2) there are going to be a lot of drugs involved. Each of these things are highly prevalent in Sabotage, a movie that twists and turns, but somehow winds up being exactly what you expect it to be: a half-assed action thriller with a lot of plot devices in place to keep it moving, but not enough momentum to keep it afloat.
John "Breacher" Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his highly elite super narcotic DEA team (Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Jake Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, and Mireille Enos) are practically rock stars. They've succeeded in busting up drug cartels left and right when a job goes awry and $10 million disappears without a trace under their watch. They're questioned and put under surveillance by the DEA heads until they're forced to give up six months later and the team is able to get back together again.
But instead of returning to the good ol' days, Breacher's team is killed off one by one and they suspect that one of their drug enemies is behind it, until an FBI agent (Olivia Williams) gets involved with the case and enough evidence is uncovered to make any one of the team members a suspect.
Sabotage isn't anything you haven't seen before. It's recycled stuff, and though this isn't something to complain about, the lack of any character emotion and plot intensity is what drags this movie from average to a throw-away film. David Ayer's style of directing is very raw and certain camera angles and action sequences create a gritty atmosphere. His ability to pull the audience into the midst of the action is fantastic, and it works so well for him usually, like in End of Watch, but it doesn't have the desired effect here.
Perhaps it's because the cast isn't as well-equipped to carry out what's required of them and their characters go on about how they're a family, but don't ever act like it. Even some of the writing feels legitimately lazy, many things coming far too conveniently or too slow to allow a major build-up to the finale. There's also no investment in the characters. By the time the end comes around, you know what's coming even though the film does a decent job of hiding who actually stole the money. But it's really a lackluster buildup even when they attempt to create tension between everyone and escalate the situation.
Schwarzenegger only has so much range as an actor, and that's not really saying much, but at least he really sells it in he final scene of the film. His character is many things: supportive, helpful, shady, and manipulative. Though all of these fade way in the film's final moments.
Perhaps it would have proved more entertaining if Schwarzenegger had been allowed to become this changed man about halfway through rather than waiting until the end. Ayer tries to differentiate each of the characters, either by their "cool" names or their personalities, but some of them, like Terrence Howard, don't even get that many lines or a chance to stand out.
Ultimately, Ayer's previous films have more to them in terms of characterization and a better emotional and action-packed climax that keeps the audience far more entertained than his newest film. And while this is Schwarzenegger's best film in a long time, it isn't Ayer's. His directing style, which usually makes the film more personal by using first-person shots and distinct camera angles, doesn't work here like it has before, which makes Sabotage an underwhelming action thriller.