IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 109 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
John “Breacher” Wharthon is the leader of an elite team of DEA agents. During a raid on a cartel warehouse in which one of their number ‘Smoke’ is killed, the team steals $10 million from the cartel’s money, hides it in sewer pipes to collect later and split among themselves, and blows up the rest to cover their tracks. However, the money disappears, and their superior Floyd Demel finds out about it and suspends them for several months, during which they are investigated for the theft. With no concrete evidence of their participation, Demel reinstates them, but then someone begins to kill them off one by one…..
Though his autobiography sold quite well, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s big movie comeback isn’t going too well, with The Last Stand flopping, Escape Plan just doing okay when ‘okay’ is pretty poor considering it paired him with Sylvester Stallone, and now Sabotage, which is no relation to the Alfred Hitchcock film I reviewed on this very website a while back, is also tanking at the box office. This is, I think, not just due to Arnie not being the box office draw that he used to be, but because we live in a sad time where, for whatever reason, ‘R’ rated action films tend not to attract a mass audience, which is why, for instance, the surprisingly good, if in the end pointless, Robocop remake was not ‘R’ but ‘PG-13’. Things will probably change in the future but for now we’re stuck with the sad situation we have now. The Last Stand and Escape Plan were hardly vintage Arnie but were still fun and gave this critic a reasonably satisfying dose of old-school action. Sabotage, though, is something else. It aims a bit higher than those other two films but doesn’t really work, though you could do a whole lot worse and it’s certainly a bit better than its dismal box office performance may indicate.
The opening scene of Arnie’s character John Wharthon, nicknamed Breacher, watching a recording of a woman being tortured, indicates both that this is trying to be different from the usual Arnie fare, and that, although you don’t see much detail [it’s the screams that are emphasised and they’re blood curdling enough], this won’t be ‘PG-13’/’12A’ stuff. Indeed, the shoot-out that follows tells you that this is a movie that wears its ‘R’ rating with pride as people are bloodily shot all over the place. There’s a memorably gruesome scene later on when a man is discovered nailed to a ceiling with some of his entrails hanging out and some of them falling onto the floor andonto one of the characters. However, the film can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. For some of the time it’s a typical Ten Little Indians-type murder mystery where members of a group are being mysteriously picked off, but every now and again they throw in a bit of shooting to remind you that this is an Arnie film. Reportedly the original cut was around three hours and was reduced by the studio to make it more of an action movie. Considering that the members of Arnie’s team, who all have names like Grinder, Tripod and Smoke and swear constantly, are as irritating a bunch of macho arseholes – in fact they’re basically yobs – as exist on film [so much so that it’s hard to care when they start being bumped off], the heavy cutting probably helped the film, though maybe the original version made them into more rounded characters.
Parts of the plot make little sense [for a start, how could the police know that 10 million dollars were stolen when all the money that wasn’t taken had been blown to smithereens?] but at least the action, which climaxes with a great car chase and Arnie shooting a load of folk in a bar [a scene which seems a bit out of place in a film which for much of the time seems to not want to really unleash its star] is well shot, director David Ayer helping to give the proceedings a mostly realistic, gritty feel while not, despite what you may have read, resorting much to crappy shakycam or rapid edits [annoying how this style seems to be generally considered to be the way to go when trying to be realistic and gritty even though it results in the opposite]. While Arnie’s unpleasant pals often try to be funny and fail, there are some genuine chuckles between the two main cops investigating the events, one of them Olivia Williams who, like Terrence Howard and some of the other cast, seems a little lost and unsure whether to play more for comedy or seriousness. Meanwhile the Austrian Oak really seems over the hill in this one and it’s hard to believe he’s as tough as portrayed, though sometimes there’s a slight but interesting element of nastiness which I think the actor could do well by showing more of in future films. His acting has certainly improved of late too.
Sabotage [and I’m sure they could have thought up a better title] is unfocused, messy and half-heartedly tries to do much to please too many people and ends up doing the opposite, but it’s fitfully entertaining as long as you don’t expect too much. The biggest problem is that, mostly due to weak writing and poor characterisation, it’s hard to care very much about what’s going on, and this is something even films with lots of action and blood need. Arnie’s first true ensemble piece since the classic that is Predator just doesn’t really come off and only works in fits and spades.