Capone says Schwarzenegger's performance elevates the gleefully violent SABOTAGE!!!
It's big, it's dumb, it's beyond brutal, and it's way more complicated than it needs to be, but I'll be damned if I didn't sit and white-knuckle watch SABOTAGE as often as I was laughing in spots I'm pretty sure weren't meant to be funny. Believe me when I say I would never give this film a pass just because Arnold Schwarzenegger is the lead, as Breacher, the head of a tactical DEA team who essentially answers to no one. If anything, I'd be more likely to be an apologist for director and co-writer (with Skip Woods) David Ayer, whose commitment to keeping things authentic and bloody in such films as TRAINING DAY and END OF WATCH make his works exercises in peaking into some dark corners of law enforcement.
Breacher and his team open the film raiding a cartel mansion containing millions of dollars in drug money. Before they blow the place to hell, they hide about $10 million down a sewer pipe for pick up later, but when they go to pick it up, the money has vanished. The missing money doesn't go unnoticed by either the cartel or other law enforcement agencies, who disband the team for six months, interrogating them relentlessly before allowing them to reconvene and start kicking ass again. But the old team is rusty, suspicious and paranoid, all for very good reasons. And before long, team members start getting knocked off in very nasty ways that make it appear that the cartel isn't happy about having its money swiped.
A pair of Atlanta homicide detectives (Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau) are trying to solve the murders while the team is looking to do the same but enact some revenge on whoever is killing them off. And there's a lot of shooting and blowing things up and stabbing and general nastiness. It's pretty great.
What I enjoyed most was watching the task force as a group. Familiar faces like Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Max Martini and, most surprising, a drug-fueled Mirelle Enos as Lizzy, the team's only woman and possibly its most ferocious member. I'm still trying to figure out if she's one of the most kickass female characters ever in an action film or if she's setting back feminism 50 years with her portrayal of an oversexed redhead who would get just as much pleasure out of gutting you as she would fucking you. The time we get to spend just watching the team members hang out and tear each other to pieces with dark truths and gallows humor is fascinating and funny stuff. And watching them maneuver around a location, clearing room after room, mowing down bad guys reminded me of a sloppier, but equally precise version of what we saw in Zero Dark Thirty.
I like the way Schwarzenegger handles this role, as well, infusing his inherent toughness with charm and wit, with a touch of the vulgarian. He even uses his likability to manipulate the investigators into giving up information. But the same cannot be said of most of the team members, and as a result I found myself not really giving a shit who was going to die next or which one, if any, stole the money out from under them. While I certainly enjoyed watching the camaraderie on display, SABOTAGE doesn't give us enough of these soldiers to really care about their fates, and that's detrimental to the film as a whole.
SABOTAGE is far from a great film, but it's a highly watchable one that combines a high degree of entertainment value with just enough gore and tasteless behavior to keep those of us without twisted minds at bay for fear of contamination. It's a nasty piece of work, and I say that will all due affection. There's a sense that Ayer may have dumbed down some of the procedural and forensic details for mass consumption, and would have actually enjoyed watching these tough guys (and lady) actually show an interest in the investigative part of their job. But one cannot wish for everything. There's a level of shock value that the filmmakers clearly love delivering, and while I'm not necessarily a fan of shock for shock's sake, it fits in with the material that surrounds it. SABOTAGE is a smart film going deep undercover as a dumb movie, so much so that sometimes it forgets it's smart. Got it?
-- Steve Prokopy
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