Alas, poor Arnold, we know you too well. And that was before the less than uplifting end to your gubernatorial legacy. Whatever one has to say about his choices, both on and off the screen, Arnold Schwarzenegger has an undeniable charisma, goofy as it may seem. Over six feet of Übermensch, the Austrian mountain has cut an impressive figure many times when mowing down countless bad guys with little more than his pecks (and a couple battalions worth of bullets). However, the real secret throughout the years is that he’s just as likely to knock them dead by yucking it up as he is from gunplay. Unless Schwarzenegger is playing a homicidal cyborg from the future, he works best when the puns are as plentiful as the explosions. Thus, Sabotage’s biggest misfire is its woefully miscalculated sense of seriousness and melodrama. Directed by David Ayer, who had just earned some respectability thanks to End of Watch, this film hopelessly reaches for thrilling suspense, but comes up with something far deadlier: boredom.
Starring a crew of DEA badasses who live somewhere near the border of Mexico, as well as the border of common sense, our rowdy wild bunch of heroes have been making a mockery of Mexican drug cartels for years, not to mention of their profession. Acting more like the latest Vince McMahon masterminded nWo stable of charismatic heels than any division of law enforcement, these are a bunch of cut-ups trying way too hard to sell red neck machismo at the strip club and shooting ranges when they aren’t getting themselves shot.
Led by a dangerously dour Schwarzenegger in the role of Breacher, an old school cop still grieving over the deaths of his wife and son at the hands of a Mexican drug cartel, the rest of crew’s ciphers are filled out by Joe Manganiello as Grinder, Terrence Howard as Sugar, Josh Holloway as Neck, and Mireille Enos as Lizzy, the token woman who proves she can run with the boys by being the only one who likes to do her killing while on meth. She is also married to Breacher’s second-in-command, Monster, played by a surprisingly passable Sam Worthington. With a two-foot beard worthy of Duck Dynasty, Worthington provides an unrecognizable, but sympathetic turn as the group’s spiritual and emotional guru. Then again, it might help that he is the only one who gives a coke line that they’re getting killed off one-by-one.
The main gist of the plot is that after the group steals $10 million from their latest drug bust—and then proceeds to lose that money under mysterious circumstances—they are then slowly murdered like ten little hillbillies by what they at first assume is a cartel. With each death being more spectacular than the last in its gory details, Olivia Williams as local investigator Caroline Brentwood is called in to state the obvious about one of them killing the others and then to feign interest in Schwarzenegger’s glossy-eyed magnetism.
Schwarzenegger is still a movie star of sorts, but this is not the kind of film that is going to return him to the top of the heap. Confused and haunted by past sins was always Stallone’s shtick; Arnold’s contrast was the raised eyebrow, the lit cigar, and the perfectly delivered groaner punctuating every other scene. While this film has a few humorous nods to the former governator’s impressive political career, and his Mr. Universe iconography as at least defined by SNL, Ayer and co-screenwriter Skip Woods ignore decades of evidence to the contrary when they cast the Kindergarten Cop in a dramatic light. Silent, reserved, and constantly mourning his dead family, which he shows about as much visible anger over losing as he would at dropping a quarter down a sink, this is a stoic performance that ultimately resembles a stone. Unless it’s in a James Cameron franchise, he needs to be having a good time smirking at the ridiculousness surrounding him if the audience has any hope of doing so.
Sadly, that too seems like an industrial pipe dream in a movie that is as willfully ugly, coarse, and all around unappealing as the movie’s multiple toilet jokes. Closer to Ayer’s Street Kings than End of Watch, it also would fit nicely on a shelf that included Skip Woods’ other scripted masterworks, such as Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and A Good Day to Die Hard. There is plenty of R-rated violence, including disemboweled organs and severed eyeballs, but all the teeth-gnashing in this movie is as fun as a root canal.
A 90-minute slap-and-dash with so little plot that the picture never once thinks to depict the supposedly tight-knit DEA group as distraught over its increasingly dwindling numbers, Sabotage is as sharp as a bag of hammers. When the third act reveals who is doing the killing and who has the money, it will matter less to you than the font size of the credits.
Truly, this is a movie that can be best summed up by a sequence very close to the beginning of the picture. During the Justice Department’s initial investigation into Breacher and the team, DEA yes-man decides to flash a gun at Arnold’s Breacher in a show of power. It is immediately confiscated from him and then disposed with. Afterwards, t sits there, mockingly, when the toilet water rushes over it. Smeared and baptized in the fluids of urinal cakes, the antagonistic gun awaits the grasping hand of the pencil-pushing pencil-neck, who must now retrieve it from where many a pencil has left its mark. It is also the second consecutive scene in Sabotage to literally rely on toilet humor for its entertainment. And in the toilet the rest of this movie belongs too.