If you were lucky enough to grow up in the golden age of the 80’s, this name should leave you more than a little starry eyed. The man is nothing less than an action icon, spawning a plethora of films that have risen to the status of cult on the basis of macho-man antics, over the top action and zingy one-liners. His long-awaited return to the silver screen has not turned out quite as uproarious as some would have expected, which may explain the curious choice of director for his newest venture. David Ayer’s intense, gritty filmmaking sits a little bit out of kilter with the tried and tested Schwarzenegger way and yet this coupling smacked of possible genius. It is disappointing to realize that even two such greats can’t guarantee a success.
Schwarzenegger takes on the role of John ‘Breacher’ Wharton, a living legend and the team leader to an elite DEA task force that specialises in deep cover ops. Along for the ride is Sam Worthington as his right hand man James ‘Monster’ Murray, Mireille Enos as Monster’s highly capable yet highly unstable wife, Lizzy, with Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini and Kevin Vance filling out all the necessary stereotypes to round out the motley crew. We are introduced to them during their fall from grace, as they skim close to $10 million from the Rios Garza cartel during a sanctioned raid.
The well-laid plan turns out a bit cock-eyed however when they discover that their hard-stolen money has gone on a walk-about before it could be retrieve. To add insult to injury, they come under heavy suspicion and scrutiny from the higher ups of their agency and it takes over 6 month for the investigation to be tabled due to lack of evidence. The good news of their reinstatement is immediately followed by the bad news that they are being hunted and brutally slaughtered, one by one. As their numbers begin to dwindle, this previously thick as thieves team starts to crumble as they scramble to face off against the enemies both without and within.
Sabotage is NOT an action movie. Rather it was meant to be a mystery-thriller that just so happened to include a number of not-too-shabby action scenes. The original print ran up to the 3 hour mark, but studio interference brought the finally released version down to a 109 minutes with the focus shifting to support a more action based premise. Thus Sabotage finds itself uncomfortably straddling two very different genres and not really coming through on either one of them. The action scenes are by-products of the characters occupations, which means, that while they are impeccably executed and probably accurate to a T, they never take on any real pizzazz or flair that would rocket them into the arena of outstandingly fun. The mystery-thriller flounders from a definite lack of depth and congruity.
All the required pieces seem to appear, but think on it for a fraction too long and you’ll find that they line-up less and less sensibly. The heavy skimming leaves the script feeling disjointed, jumping to conclusions and skipping to revelations without any kind of preamble or build-up.
The characters suffer just as badly from these cuts, coming across a little more than cardboard caricatures despite the talented cast at their reins. Enos and Worthington attempt to convey something profound about these people that are tinged with darkness and living inconceivable lives, but the lack of screen time and space to develop has them hitting an over the top vibe. Schwarzenegger on the other hand seems lost as Breacher, with his cookie-cutter backstory and clichéd motives. He is the one person we learn the most about but due to the complete lack of connection between the character and the actor we have almost no empathy for his ultimate outcome.
Despite all this, Sabotage does manage to whisk you away on a cracking good ride. Ayer utilises some interesting camera work to draw you right into the middle of every mêlée and paints portraits of individuals so capable of hideous violence that you never quite figure out the bad guy till it’s all over. It’s not a perfect cinematic experience by any means, but it does turn out to be quite an engrossing one.