The border between badass and just bad is a sketchy piece of geography, and one that writer-director David Ayer unfortunately crosses so many times in Sabotage that he’s probably eligible for a greencard. This surprisingly disappointing follow-up to Ayer’s superb End of Watch may boast one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest dramatic performances since he began fulfilling his promise of being back, but it’s dragged down by a plot that’s rivalled in dumbness only by garden tools, and filled with characters so repugnant and unlikeable you’ll be wishing the most violent of demises on them.
And there certainly is plenty of violence on display here – enough to make most horror movies blush – with Ayer going out of his way to highlight the ropey viscera and unrecognizably mushed torsos. Said gore being inflicted by and upon an elite team of rabble rousing, hard living DEA agents led by Arnie’s John “Breacher” Wharthon. The colourfully nicknamed team – consisting of madly goateed Sam Worthington’s Monster, Mireille Enos’ unhinged Lizzy, Joe Manganiello’s growling Grinder, Terence Howard’s Sugar, Josh Holloway’s Neck, Max Martini’s Pyro and Kevin Vance’s Tripod – raid a major cartel safehouse, stealing $10 million of the cartel’s money for themselves in the process. They stash the cash nearby, so they can return to collect it later, but when they do, they find the money gone. The robbers got robbed. With no money to show for their efforts, and under suspicion from their superiors, the team are shelved until lengthy investigations can be completed.
After months of fruitless questioning and unable to find enough evidence of their wrongdoing, the DEA eventually reinstates the now out of practice, even more dysfunctional team. Before they can get their heads back into the game though, they run into the little snag of somebody gruesomely murdering them off one by one, and it’s up to Breacher and homicide Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) to figure out just why they are being targeted. Could it be cartel payback for stealing their money? Is it a more personal vendetta? Or can the answer be so ridiculous it risks giving you an aneurysm? I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Door no. 3 is looking mighty tempting.
Ayer does move the film along at an admirable clip, interrupting the plot’s absurdity with some very well choreographed and engagingly shot action beats, occasionally making use of some of that innovative combat cinematography we saw used so immersively in End of Watch, and he also gives Arnie one of his all-time best one-liners (a soon to be classic burn), but it’s just not enough to override the rest of the film’s slovenly problems.
Otherwise reliably solid actors ham it up like pig farmers, with Einos and Williams coming off the worst for wear as they have to fumble through some laughable dialogue and characterization. The characters, much like the dialogue, suffer from Ayer clumsily trying to make everybody appear tougher than shoe leather, but in reality they come off either as disgustingly abrasive, or just simply lame. We’ve seen plenty of immensely popular anti-heroes or outright villains over the years, but they all achieved their infamy/fame through searing charisma or that unquantifiable cool factor. Here, these guys are just cartoonish, loud mouthed, annoying douchebags, and completely unnecessarily so, as nowhere does their dickishness actually factor into the film’s story.
With the level of skill that Ayer has shown in the past (this is the guy who wrote Training Day), as well as the deep talent pool in front of the camera, I went into this film with some very high hopes. Alas, with the film’s noxious characters and egregious plot, those hopes have most definitely been sabotaged.
Last Updated: April 23, 2014