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“Who dropped ass?”


The H-Bomb:  Arnold Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the cigar chomping, Austrian accented leader of an elite, paramilitary squad of DEA agents, the members of which boast such charming monikers as Pyro, Monster, and Tripod.  After a successful raid on a cartel safe house, Breacher and his team stash away ten million dollars in drug money that they intend to keep for themselves.  Trouble is, when they come back to retrieve the cash, it’s gone.

The DEA, wanting to know what happened to that money, vigorously investigates the squad for six months to no avail, because the team is just so tight (like a family, we’re told), that they would never, ever rat each other out.  So, the investigation is dropped, and the team is placed back on active duty.  But, before Breacher and his boys (and one girl) can go kicking down doors again, they face a much bigger problem:  Members of the squad are being picked off one by one, in ways that are very gory, gruesome, and grotesque.

Female homicide detective Caroline (Olivia Williams) is assigned to the case, and at first she and Breacher both think that it’s the cartel looking for their money.  However, as they continue to dig, and members of Breacher’s squad continue to drop like flies, they find that it might not be the cartel looking for their loot, after all, that the real killers might be a little closer to home.  In the interest of not dropping spoilers, I shall end the synopsis there.

In recent years, director David Ayer has proven himself to be a filmmaker worth paying attention to.  He wrote the screenplay for Training Day, which in my humble estimation is a modern classic, and of the films he’s directed, I consider Street Kings sadly under-rated and End of Watch one of the best films of 2012.  The typical David Ayer police protagonist exists in that murky, morally grey area, where one is neither entirely good or entirely bad, and in that regard, the cops who populate Sabotage are no different.

Here, as in Ayer’s past films, the characters face situations in which there are no good, or right, decisions available to them, and everyone is susceptible to corruption.  The grittiness, and the graphic, no-holds-barred violence of his prior movies are very much on hand, as there’s a character in one scene who is literally turned inside out.  On the surface, Sabotage seems to get everything right, yet somehow, it ultimately turns out to be a strangely unsatisfying film.

It’s not bad, per se, as there is plenty of bloody, hard hitting action and strong performances from the talented ensemble (yes, even from Schwarzenegger), but the movie itself just isn’t particularly entertaining.  I was never bored at any point, nor was I particularly interested.  The problem is that the characters, all of them, were so utterly off putting, that once they’re being brutally dispatched, I just never really cared.

In Training Day, we had Ethan Hawke as the one cop who was able to keep his head above the shit, so we the audience could latch onto him and identify with him.  Sabotage never gives us such a character.  Every single cop from Arnold’s team, including Arnold, is a thuggish slime ball, and I couldn’t invest in them, or give the slightest shit what happened to them.  I assume we were supposed to identify with Williams’ no nonsense detective, who is the audience surrogate, but she herself isn’t particularly interesting, or sympathetic, or anyone I would willingly spend time with.

The lack of a true “hero” in Sabotage ties into the film’s other main problem, its identity crisis.  It strives to be a gritty cop drama, as well as an Arnold Schwarzenegger action fest, and it comes off as an uneasy blend of the two.  It aims to be both credible and incredible, realistic and larger-than-life, and it simply doesn’t work.  It has all of the bangs and booms of an Arnie flick, but none of the fun.  Adding even more to the movie’s laundry list of issues, are Ayer’s attempts to experiment with cross-cutting, in-scene flashbacks, which were just downright discombobulating.

All things considered, Sabotage is quite the disappointment.  It’s not a terrible film, as some critics have asserted, as the violent gunplay is effective (fans of blood spatter will get their money’s worth), and the chase sequence towards the end is one wickedly destructive spectacle.  Also, as mentioned earlier, Arnold is good in this movie.  Unlike in The Last Stand, where he lumbered about like an aging, arthritic Frankenstein, here he looked very credible running and gunning, and he actually came off as a little scary at times.  He’s not going to bag an Oscar the way Denzel Washington did for Training Day, but his performance is commendably solid.

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger’s stellar turn is not enough to recommend Sabotage, at least not enough to recommend going to see it in theaters.  This rather grim and surprisingly unpleasant shoot ’em up might make a decent rental for a rainy weekend, but for right now, I’d strongly suggest checking out End of Watch on Netflix, instead.


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