There’s a perfectly serviceable idea at the core of the otherwise convoluted drug cartel vs. DEA action effort Sabotage. The notion of a ragtag group of degenerate, out of control government agents, led by a legitimate law enforcement legend — the best ever at taking down well armed and aggressive Mexican mobsters — is enough for ten films, let alone an intended Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle. But instead of pursuing the obvious, the storyline here goes sideways. Instead of staying with the tried and true, director David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) and screenwriter Skip Woods (Swordfish, A Good Day to Die Hard) borrow a bit from Agatha Christie and create a whodunit that’s a “don’t want it.” During the infrequent stunt sequences, we’re strapped near the edge of our seat, waiting for the ride to begin. Once it gets into And Then There Were None territory, the movie stalls.
In the months after a personal tragedy, mythic DEA commander John “Breacher” Wharton (Schwarzenegger, very good in a throwaway role) has only one thing on his mind: revenge. So during a standard raid on a drug kingpin’s swanky hideout, he and his team — James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), his cokehead wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), macho lunkhead Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello), smooth operator Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), and Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini) — decide to help themselves to a cool $10 million. When the Feds find out, they put Wharton and the gang on leave. A few months later, everyone is cleared and its back to business as usual… except, members of the madcap crew start turning up dead. Soon, Wharton is working with an FBI agent (Olivia Williams) to try and figure out who is murdering his troops, and more importantly, why.
Even on the plot summary surface, Sabotage sounds better than it is. Instead, it’s all politically incorrect behavior, cutesy nicknames, and tossed off action film one liners (“Clean-up, aisle nine!”). When our gonzo group isn’t splattering bad guy blood all over the big screen, they’re groping strippers, smoking crack, drinking gallons of beer, and acting like a bunch of unimpressive perverts. If Woods and Ayer wanted to suggest that life under such massive professional pressure requires the Herculean releasing of “steam,” they missed the mark. Instead, we spend way too much time in exposition, every big name cast member getting his moment of hedonism, betrayal, and potential redemption before being smashed by a train or disemboweled like a holiday hog.
This is one brutal and violent film, heads exploding from automatic weapons fire, wounds weeping open and gushing gore as knives turns torsos into tripe. Such blunt force is fine. It’s the endless talking in between that rattles our aggravating nerves. We could care less about the mystery since we don’t care about the characters, either. Arnold plays his purpose so close to the vest that, when it is revealed, it’s more obvious than abrupt. And what about Ms. Williams and her “there one moment, gone the next” Southern drawl. She’s a red herring without any real rooting interest. The DEA drones are derivative, types (addict, pretty boy, psycho, realist) instead of people we want to pull for. Soon, Sabotage grows sabo-tired.
For his part, Ayer ditches the found footage gimmick of End of Watch for a more straightforward approach, and it works well, especially during the last act car chase. But what’s with the weird, handheld gun-sight POV shots? They look like leftovers from a bad music video, and though the movie is supposedly set in Atlanta, only longtime residents will recognize the city. Had they simply decided to create a collection of interesting oddballs and mean-tempered misfits and pitted them against the nastiest international criminals imaginable with Arnie as their guide, Sabotage would be super. Instead, with its tired “Ten Little Indians” ideals, this thriller fails to excite.