Having hung up the political hat Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the silver screen has been a little hit and miss. While The Last Stand had a cartoonish charm to it his repeated teaming with Sly Stallone has left him feeling like nothing more than a supporting character in ‘80s throwbacks. And if there’s one thing that Arnie isn’t, it’s a supporting character. Sabotage sees him as part of an ensemble but make no mistakes, this is no Expendables, here Arnie is king.
John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger) is the leader of a hardened DEA task force. On a drugs bust the team deploy a cunning plan to skim a little off the top of the huge cartel fortune they find. But when it comes to retrieving the money someone else has beaten them to it. With the investigation into them finally over the team get back in the game but before long they are being taken out one by one. The investigation into their targeting is lead by Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) who begins to smell foul play from within the unit.
Sabotage’s biggest flaw is that it never manages to live up to its opening scene. Director David Ayer brings his breathtaking kinetic style from End Of Watch to a brutal and hard-hitting action set piece. Bullets rip through walls and flesh in equal measure as claret and other bodily fluid are left dripping from the walls. It’s scintillating stuff but the story never manages to live up to this premise.
Instead Sabotage boils down to a procedural investigation with a bit of whodunit it and good old fashion revenge to boot. But it struggles to decide which one of these to commit to. The script spends too much time trying to cloak its own mystery. The end goes some way to rectifying this but it is very telling that the home format release has no less than two alternate endings, both of which are nowhere near close to the film’s actual ending. It’s fair to assume that even Ayer was not entirely sure how he wanted to wrap-up this Wild Bunch style carnage.
It’s made all the more frustrating by the rogue’s gallery of wonderfully violent characters Ayer and co-writer Skip Woods have created. Sam Worthington’s Animal is far removed from his usual clean-cut image, here he’s inked-up and rough, the sort of character probably ejected from The Sons Of Anarchy for being too off the chain. The Killing’s Mireille Enos is one of this year’s most fascinating female characters. A drug-fuelled ball of hedonism and foul-language not to mention enough violent intent to make most femme fatales weep with envy and fear. Olivia Williams holds her own as the most straight character surrounded by a group of almost cartoons but is often sidelined, as are the audience, in having the wool pulled over her eyes and therefore undermining what is otherwise a smart character.
As to Arnie he’s back to some of his early career stoic form. There are no ‘80s style comebacks here but rather a cigar-puffing lump of granite quietly brooding his way while others get to do the over-acting histrionics. It seems in many ways like a return to the likes of The Terminator and Commando with the excessive violence but in Breacher’s ambiguous character Schwarzenegger remains a magnetic, if aging, screen presence.
Bloody and violent but never enough to pay-up on its early promise Sabotage does exactly what it says on the tin, starts out with a bang before slightly sabotaging its own good intentions.