I can sorta stand it, though I know you planned it…
During the raid of a drug cartel safe house, Commander Breacher and the rest of his ragtag DEA task force decide to skim a little bit of the haul off the top, to the tune of $10,000,000. When the money goes missing before they can split it up, the team begins to turn on each other, all the while being systematically (and not-so-systematically) killed one by one. Is it the drug cartel getting their revenge? Is it an inside job? Is it a shark with a machine gun strapped to its back (most assuredly not)?
The latest entry in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the world of kicking ass and reading lines has much loftier aspirations than the last few. Outside of a few well-done set pieces, Sabotage is much less of a slam-bang action extravaganza, and more of a crime thriller/procedural that just so happens to star the king of the slam-bang action extravaganza.
After a pre-credits sequence that hints of the horrors to come, we’re treated to an exciting, but sloppily filmed/edited sequence that sets up the driving force of the plot, while also introducing us to the type of protagonists that we’ll be dealing with. This is one of the bigger issues with the film – the group are just not particularly likeable, made even worse by the fact that they aren’t very memorable either. Despite being given an introduction to each, complete with onscreen graphics, you’ll be hard pressed to tell half of them apart five minutes later (and, you probably won’t put forth too much effort trying). And, since we first see them performing a pretty awful act (with varying levels of “good intentions”) and just becoming worse from there, you don’t have a whole lot to root for.
Almost as if sensing the aforementioned forgettability that plagues half the cast, the second act takes on the persona of a proto-slasher film, and the less distinguishable characters are dispatched in surprisingly gruesome and violent fashion. On the trail to find out who is behind murdering the team, Olivia Williams gives the film’s best performance as a detective who refuses to take any guff from anybody (and, believe me, there is plenty of guff to be given). She and Schwarzenegger make a good pairing in their investigation. At a certain point, however, it becomes a bit silly how many times they show up at the scene of the crime about five minutes too late to have prevented it (the audience gets there about five minutes before they do each time) and almost seems as if they are spoofing similar scenes from Silence of the Lambs. One scene in particular, involving dual timelines, seems almost directly lifted from Silence, but without the element of surprise and tension that elevated its predecessor.
As far as the acting goes, the film is far more successful. Schwarzenegger is as charismatic and commanding as ever, but feels a bit out of place here. Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, and Mark Schlegel all put in admirable efforts to stand out from the crowd, but are sunk by weakly written characterizations. Terrence Howard is a bit more successful, but is very underused – one would have to assume that much of his performance did not meet the editor’s approval. Standing out from the pack are Sam Worthington and Mireille Enos as husband and wife members of the DEA crew. He, the more reasonable and leadership-worthy of the group, and she, the drug-addicted undercover agent are given the chance to extend themselves beyond the one-word nickname that each team member is given and they are both more than up to the task.
As mentioned, the film is not incredibly action-heavy, but thankfully, what we do get is not overly-plagued by the shaky cam/close-up/dark lighting techniques that are so prevalent in modern action films. We actually get to see what is happening, and the film is better for it. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. Director and co-writer David Ayer also strives for a sense of realism, particularly in the first act, that seems at odds with the silliness of what follows. There are quite a few twists and turns throughout that you may see coming, but still add elements of a mystery story, if not any actual mystery itself. Things do go on a bit long, however as the film bypasses a perfect ending point to tag on an additional epilogue that feels wholly unnecessary. Sure, it’s a bit of fun and it does tie up a particular plot point, but at the film’s natural climax, we all knew what would happen next. Because you’ll already be checking your watch, you didn’t need to see it actually played out at the expense of a couple of babysitter dollars saved.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
Much more of a crime thriller than an over-the-top action flick, Sabotage is never boring, but is also never particularly memorable. A trio of great performances (Williams, Worthington, and Enos), along with an always fun showing by a cigar-chomping Schwarzenegger ensure that you’ll be entertained throughout, but you won’t be writing home about it (why would you ever do that, though?). Taking its cue from several better and many worse flicks, Sabotage lands squarely right in the middle of the pack. On a side note, the trailers for the film are surprisingly successful at pulling enough footage to create a side plot that doesn't actually exist in the film and is, in fact, not only resolved before the film begins, but its very resolution drives much of the actual plot. If you can decipher that sentence, I'll leave it to you to discover exactly what I mean...
Review by Lead Writer and Film Critic, Jason HowardShare: