dir. David Ayer
Release Date: Mar 28, 14
Sabotage is an exploitation film. Like many exploitation films, the question of exactly how far it intends to go doesn’t enter into the conversation at any great length. The purpose is the transgression, the sense of watching something you shouldn’t be, or wouldn’t normally get to in polite society. Like some exploitation films, specifically the bad kinds, there’s also no real purpose or even pleasure in this transgression. When you get pass the trick cinematography and the nonsensical series of double crosses at its center, Sabotage is just a shitty action movie coated in a viscous, bloody glaze.
It’s disappointing to see David Ayer, who also helmed the far superior End of Watch, slum it with such thoroughly lurid material. But beyond that, it’s outright depressing to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger attempt to play a character that seems to be written for a man two decades his junior, or play his overwhelmed DEA agent with either the conviction or the knowing wink he once did. (Neither he nor the film ever finds either of those notes.) From the film’s opening handheld videos of a so-far unknown woman being violently tortured by masked men, it’s made abundantly clear that Breacher (Schwarzenegger) has a twisted past. By the very next scene, he’s making fart jokes with his team of DEA mercenaries. This works pretty well as a microcosm of the film as a whole.
As the head of a DEA task force, Breacher has to keep his own demons at bay while worrying about the aftermath of a cartel bust gone wrong. His team is full of those delightful characters who get one nickname and one character trait in brusquely military fashion. They’re a rambunctious bunch of social outcasts with neck tattoos and perfect situational awareness, who with few exceptions don’t get shaded out beyond being the loose cannon (Joe Manganiello), the black guy (Terrence Howard), or the sass-mouth (Josh Holloway). If lucky, they get a few more stock tropes, and those are the performances that stick the most. As the functional junkie and resident hot chick, Mireille Enos gets more mileage than should be expected out of her portrayal of a woman who clearly has one foot firmly planted in tweaked-out insanity but can hold it together just enough to survive. The film’s most surprising performance is actually Sam Worthington’s as Enos’ husband, whose escalating paranoia is more affecting than anything else that happens in Sabotage. (Olivia Williams gives the film momentary sparks of life, but is saddled with a deeply unfortunate romantic subplot that vigorously plants her in the background after a while.)
But they don’t have much to do, they being a motley group which primarily exists to become cannon fodder. After the group busts the aforementioned cartel early on, only to find that their siphoning off of about $10 million from the bust has led to the cash’s disappearance and legal blowback, they start dying off. The deaths are the most innovative thing about Sabotage, and if you take nothing else away from the film (which is highly likely) you’ll definitely remember the many scenes of brains being evacuated onto walls, corpses mounted to ceilings and gutted to create macabre chandeliers, refrigerators full of bloody appendages and all other manner of nastiness. At these points Sabotage leaves the realm of campy action cinema and enters into that of the genuinely disturbing, but the film has nothing to say with this violence. It’s just there, and maybe the audience retches a little bit, and then it’s on to the next.
It’s hard to get too worked up about Sabotage, though, because the film would probably be more offensive if it wasn’t so patently preposterous. Framed as a whodunit around the missing money, long stretches of the film serve as a waiting room until it gets around to narrowing down the list of possible suspects. It doesn’t help that if you consider its roided-up sensibilities for about ten minutes, the secret villain will become clear, to such a point that by the time the film gets around to its big reveal, it feels like it’s the last one to the party. But that’s not as bad as it gets, because the film is designed as a Schwarzenegger vehicle even as it progresses as an ensemble. The many bodies that pile up are really just an excuse to give the man yet another cowboy moment, even in a movie that doesn’t exactly paint Breacher in a positive light, particularly by the time its blood-soaked and totally unearned final sequence of catharsis rolls around. There’s no loyalty in the world of Sabotage, no honor among thieves, except for when one of those thieves is a guy people once really liked and still tepidly enjoy.