Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger left the Governor’s office and returned to making movies, the only films that have been worth the price of popcorn were those in which he played second fiddle to Sylvester Stallone. The only other film he’s done thus far, last year’s bomb, The Last Stand, was such a cheesy mess of dead-on-arrival Schwarzenegger taglines, it’s almost a godsend that his upcoming slate of films are sequels or remakes of earlier hits and well-known franchises. Because if his newest action flick, Sabotage, is any indication, brand recognition is the only thing that will keep his once-bright Hollywood star from shattering into oblivion.
Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the leader of an elite DEA task force who are systematically murdered after a raid on a high-priority cartel safe-house goes horribly awry. His team includes an array of brash and generically interchangeable characters represented by the likes of Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, and Mireille Enos. I say generically interchangeable because every one of them is an amalgamation of almost every stereotypical action bruiser from the past fifty years. Not one of them (with the exception of maybe Worthington’s Monster, who does convey at times a softer, gentler soul) has any personality beyond hyper-insensitivity, brooding and balls-to-the-wall brutishness.
All of the characters are set up at the very beginning to be flawed anti-heroes, but without any redeeming qualities, it makes them all seem like corrupt hooligans. There are no reasonable back stories to make any of their actions believable or relatable, which makes it hard to think of them as anything but a team of lowlifes who deserve what they get. They try to give Breacher a heartfelt back story to give reason to his actions, but that too is left to the imagination throughout most of the film. By the time we learn the weight of his motivations, it’s too late to sympathize with him.
I understand where writer Skip Woods and writer/director David Ayer were going with all of this; they were trying to evoke the hardcore machismo of eighties action. It’s a reasonable goal and one I would have loved to have seen pulled off. But in translating that idea, the team forgot one very important ingredient — personality.
The entire film feels like a college exercise in how to create a viable action movie, where each student has a turn in writing a scene based on what the previous students had written, and then throwing the finished product in front of a camera and hoping that all of your well-known actors will somehow give it a coherent focus and unique voice. The film is essentially dead weight in that there isn’t one ounce of intrigue in anything that’s happening, leading to a series of dry, stale, morose circumstances and characterizations.
This awful tone is set within the first two minutes as we’re treated to a sort of snuff film that Breacher is obviously attached to in some way, but is utterly disgusted by. It gives the impression that the film wants to be gritty and shocking, but turns out to be a way for the filmmakers to squeeze in as much gratuitous nudity and violence as possible, simply because it’s rated R, not because it has anything to do with furthering the plot or deeping the characters. Would the agent (Olivia Williams) helping Breacher track down his team’s killer really take a midnight swim in the nude? Who’s to say, but it doesn’t add anything at all to her character. It all essentially makes the entire film fall apart.
Take for example the “training sequence,” which is supposed to help the team return to top form after a six-month hiatus from the field. The team has apparently fallen out of touch and are constantly at odds with each other, even though it seems they’ve never once left one another’s side for the entirety of their suspension. Not only that, but within a matter of minutes, and one dramatic speech, all of a sudden, they’re working as a tight-knit team and are ready to get back into the fray. It’s all rather pointless in the scheme of things and would have worked so much better if the team had been scattered during the investigation.
An investigation that itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The opening sequence has Breacher and his team raiding the aforementioned cartel safe house, where they locate a crate full of cash that’s almost taller than Mireille Enos. Their plan is to steal as much as they can within a matter of minutes to apparently make up for what the team has had to go through over the years. They end up stealing approximately ten million dollars and then blow the rest of the cash to smithereens, only to find that the location they stored the money has itself been raided. The team is then investigated for stealing ten million dollars that went missing. My question is: how did the investigators know that ten million dollars went missing in the first place, if all of the money was destroyed?
If there was one interesting aspect to the film, it’s probably the requisite car-chase sequence. It includes some interesting twists (the end of which is where I wish the film would have been the entire time in both style and rhythm), however, it too falls short of any semblance of believability. Two of the characters involved surf through the chase in the open trunk of a car and standing in the bed of a truck without even once losing their balance, even while being whipped around turn after turn at a hundred miles an hour. In an older Schwarzenegger film, this type of hyper-realistic action sequence would have been a wild, fun ride, but here, it simply stands out as why the movie just doesn’t work.
The only other highlight of the film is Mireille Enos as Lizzy, the team’s macho bitch. Enos injects her character with a perfect mix of hardcore intensity, anti-feminist sexual flare and a tough-as-nails emotional chaos. She outperforms all of her male counterparts and even makes Schwarzenegger look like a freshman acting student.
If films like this, which ends with a revenge sequence that feels so out of place and inconsistent with the rest of the movie, it feels like its own little short film (perhaps the film that sparked the rest of the movie), are all Schwarzenegger can get when it comes to Stallone-less originality, he should just retire for good, because the memory of days gone by is much easier to digest than this type of continuous, lazy dreck.
My Grade: D
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