Synopsis: In Sabotage, Arnold Schwarzenegger leads an elite DEA task force that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. When the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they think their work is done – until, one-by-one, the team members mysteriously start to be eliminated. As the body count rises, everyone is a suspect.
Release Date: March 28, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Although he has been making films for several decades, it was his work on the gritty cop drama End of Watch that propelled David Ayer from relative obscurity to top-tier director. In that film, Ayer showed that it was possible to deliver an engaging action film with great characters that didn’t rely on big set pieces. With his latest film, Sabotage, Ayer has been given the keys to a much larger vehicle, with a bigger ensemble of high profile actors, in the hopes that he can duplicate that same success. Unfortunately, the end result leaves a lot to be desired.
While the film loses momentum at an alarming rate, Sabotage starts fairly strong. In the film’s early moments, we meet an elite DEA Special Ops team comprised of the most foul-mouthed and downright gross set of bearded men you’ve likely ever seen. These are the types of guys who drink beer more than water, get into fights at strip clubs, and make tons of jokes about each other’s mothers and male genitalia. Oh, and there’s also a girl, but she’s basically just another one of the guys. At the same time, though, this Special Ops troop, led by longtime veteran and DEA hero John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger from Escape Plan), is a very effective team. Their methods might be unconventional, and maybe even illegal, but their results are undeniable.
However, when an attempt to skim a little extra off the top of a recent cartel bust goes wrong, the Special Ops team not only falls under the scrutiny of the DEA but each other. It isn’t long before this tight knit group soon starts to fall apart at the seams, before they start falling off the planet.
While Sabotage‘s premise might sound fairly generic, it actually doesn’t start out that way. Rather, Ayer and fellow screenwriter Skip Woods spin a tale that, at the outset, holds a lot of promise. Seeing these DEA agents work, watching them methodically clear room after room, is thrilling. Similarly, Sabotage doesn’t downplay the realities of being a DEA agent, the risks and the rewards. However, when the film devolves into “which one of us is the turncoat” it throws any of those potentially intriguing ideas out the window.
Sabotage‘s “diverse” characters are well-established in the film – a success considering the ensemble boasts notable actors like Sam Worthington (Man On A Ledge), Terrence Howard (The Butler), and Olivia Williams (The Last Days On Mars) – they are not portrayed in any sort of believable way, and many of their personalities bleed into one another. The decisions made by these characters, and oftentimes their dialogue, are eye roll inducing at best. To be fair, the movie treats Schwarzenegger’s character Breacher in the only way possible: as an epithet-spewing, cigar-smoking American hero, but when that thin character work extends to more capable actors you start to lose interest. When each of these characters have little redeeming value, why should an audience care who’s killing them? In all honesty, they all deserve what’s coming to them.
Therein lies the rub for Sabotage. It establishes a morally grey center, but never tries to show its characters as any more than a deep dark shade of black. From the very first moment, Sabotage tries its best to defy the common conventions of the good and the bad characters, but it does so at its own peril. It’s a classic case of a potentially intriguing story lost in the pursuit of pleasing a general audience. Had the story been a little less formulaic, or had the characters been a little more dynamic personality-wise, then maybe audiences would have bought into this world.
Sabotage does get enough right to make it worth a casual recommendation. The characters are occasionally fun, and the action is competent enough to be engaging, even when it undermines the established realistic approach. Plus, if you’re the type of person who loves when films disregard all pretenses and let Arnold be Arnold, you’ll likely come out of Sabotage grinning from ear to ear. This is total fan service as far as his character is concerned, and that’s perfectly fine. However, if you are looking for Sabotage to engage on any but a very basic level then it might be best to wait for a rental.
On the action front, Sabotage offers something for everybody, but hold on before you think that’s a good thing. The sequences that highlight the clinical nature of this Spec Ops team are well choreographed and breathe true realism into the picture. Yes, it’s nothing that hasn’t been featured on screen before, but it’s no less interesting to see. There’s also plenty of blood for people who are into the obnoxious gore for gore’s sake type of approach.
Towards the later half, though, the film’s action starts to fly off the rails, shunning believability in favor of delivering third act thrills. In a different film, the final sequence might have worked, but when Sabotage has spent the last hour establishing that these characters are skilled tacticians and that its action will be informed by that set-up (kind of), then you don’t expect a big, Arnold Schwarzenegger-style sequence at the end. For that matter, the sequence in question isn’t exciting, which is the real crime.
Overall, Sabotage‘s action is a lot like the film as a whole. It shows flashes of creativity and smart filmmaking, but then turns around and undermines all the good will it has earned. On the scale of mindless action flicks, Sabotage ranks below the passing grade, although some will find elements to enjoy.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): David Ayer
- Screenwriter(s): Skip WoodsDavid Ayer
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger (John ‘Breacher’ Wharton)Sam Worthington (James ‘Monster’ Murray)Joe Manganiello (Joe ‘Grinder’ Phillips) Josh Holloway (Eddie ‘Neck’ Jordan)Terrence Howard (Julius ‘Sugar’ Edmonds)Mireille Enos (Lizzy Murray)
- Editor(s): Dody Dorn
- Cinematographer: Bruce McCleery
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: David Sardy
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA