Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Pervasive Language, some Sexuality/Nudity and Drug Use
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: Skip Woods, David Ayer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau, Martin Donovan
SABOTAGE has been marketed as the complete opposite of what it is. Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger attempting to get his action movie cred back in recent years, one might expect a giant action extravaganza loaded with plenty of over-the-top violence and cheesy one-liners. However, David Ayer (HARSH TIMES, END OF WATCH) is behind this flick. That alone speaks volumes about the type of tone it hits. SABOTAGE is actually dark gritty thriller that has somehow attracted the names of a few big action stars to headline it. Judging from the trailers this looked like just another action B-flick so it hasn’t done too well in its opening weekend.
A crack DEA team (led by Schwarzenegger) make a massive bust on a cartel’s property. They burn the money they find, but not before putting a little down the sewer for themselves. When they go to retrieve the stolen cash, they discover it’s missing. Someone knew about their plan and has taken the drug money for themselves. The stolen cartel cash attracts some unwanted attention and the DEA agents find themselves being offed one by one. A special investigator is called in to identify suspects and discovers that the list is plentiful. The script basically plays out like AND THEN THERE WERE NONE with DEA agents and with a significant amount of more blood.
Taken on its own merits, SABOTAGE is serviceable as a thriller. It’s got big problems that ultimately leave it as a middle-of-the-road experience, but you could certainly do far worse. I found the most fun part of the film was guessing which character would get killed off next and which suspect was most likely to be doing the dirty work. For a film that goes into by-the-numbers territory come the final showdown, director/writer Ayer and co-writer Woods kept me slightly off as to my guess where things would turn next. The ultimate pointless decisions come in showing unnecessary exposition. There was an entire flashback sequence with Arnold that could have been clipped out in editing and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference to the plot at hand.
While it plays out like a solid (at times, grisly) crime story, the film takes a sudden swerve into over-the-top action territory near the ending that felt like it didn’t belong in the slightest. The reasoning may have been that Arnold was headlining this film, so there needed to be a some sort of massive gunfight and a few car chases. These scenes didn’t fit the mood that the rest of the film seemed to be aiming for. The characters are all scumbags, but enjoyable to watch for the suspense factor of who may or may not be manipulating the other agents. Arnold Schwarzenegger also puts in a serious attempt to give a dramatic role, but he simply can’t deliver it. God bless him, he’s trying. It seems that he was never meant to give a genuinely good performance. He’s the big goofy Austrian action star and that’s probably all he’ll ever be.
The real mood killer comes in the reveal of who took the money/who did the killing being underwhelming too. This double-twist didn’t offer any closure, but instead opened a new array of plot holes. This effect probably wasn’t intended by Ayer or Woods. The film can also be downright unpleasant to watch in points. There’s a graphic gore factor (seriously, some scenes felt like they were from a SAW movie) and one car chase has a bunch of needless casualties that are in poor taste. I’m far from a prude and love good violent action sequences, but the action in this film wasn’t fun or enjoyable. The epilogue also drags the film out longer than it needed to be and didn’t benefit the story in the slightest.
SABOTAGE is a dark thriller that has been marketed as an action film. It’s bound to disappoint some with its deliberate pacing and has a climax that nearly destroys all of the good things the film had going for it (some sustained tension, freaky moments, and guessing of which character might be evil). It may also be Schwarzenegger’s first ever crack at a serious performance. It stumbles though and winds up just being a serviceable crime thriller, rather than the unrealized creepy one it was building on for a majority of the running time.