If life – and the daily news – teaches us anything it is this: bad things happen, all the time, all around the world. What that makes us is up to us.
Why is this sentiment relevant in the review for a movie whose trailer looks like it features a group of badasses blowing stuff up, you ask? Because a lot of what happens in Sabotage has much to do with the opening of the movie. And because it comes and goes so quickly, one can be forgiven for forgetting about it until much later in the movie.
Director David Ayer made his name as a screenwriter with movies like The Fast & The Furious, and Training Day. When he actually began helming movies they were all gritty, angry, and often set in the less savoury parts of LA.
The narrative involves a group of hard-as-nails DEA agents led by John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and includes members with nicknames like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello), Neck (Josh Holloway), Sugar (Terrence Howard), Pyro (Max Martini), Tripod (Kevin Vance), and Lizzy (Mireille Enos). Now these guys are as rough as movie characters come but no one is as crazy-seeming as Lizzy. This is such a departure from the role Ms. Enos played in the TV show The Killing, one can’t help wondering what would have happened if Linden was more like Lizzy.
But I digress…
So Breacher and his merry band of killers take down a cartel house holding a lot of money, engage in a firefight, and steal and hide ten million of the many more dollars that happen to be on site.
So far, so wealthy. Right?
Except, when they go back for the money, it is gone. And the team is under investigation for stealing, which means the team is taken off active duty, put through the investigative wringer, and left sitting on their hands for six months. As if things couldn’t get worse for a gang of adrenaline-junkies, somebody starts killing them off, one-by-one.
First up, I’m going to comment on the violence. There is a lot of it: in words, deeds, and prosthetics. There is a lot of blood and gore flying around the screen and I give thanks that no one acted on the thought to convert this movie to 3D. So action/gore movie fans have a lot to feast their eyes on.
Apart from Ms. Enos however, no one is really given a character that exceeds their costuming and personal grooming. Mr. Schwarzenegger in particular has a haircut that is just too darned ill-advised to make any real sense. To my mind this is a step down from the cool he radiated in Escape Plan. So unless this movie makes a lot of money, there’s still that big success lacking in the Austrian Oak’s comeback plan.
The big problem with this movie–and it is a forked road problem originating from the same place–is the overall narrative thrust. The tale is simultaneously thin, and bloated. And then it is further muddied by the editing. Mr Ayer shares writing duties with Skip Woods (Swordfish, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hitman, A Good Day To Die Hard – stylised movies sure, but all carrying a fair amount of narrative bloat), and the cut of the picture is credited to Dody Dorn, the woman who edited Memento.
There is something about the way Ayer and Woods’ writing comes together with Bruce McLeery’s cinematography under Ms Dorn’s hands, that doesn’t sit quite right. It is as if the emphasis points are all slightly out of synch; as if the movie wasn’t allowed to marinate for long enough to revisit it, and clarify some of the confusion that unfolds when an audience experiences it for the first time.
Final Analysis: This is a hyper-violent action movie featuring a very recognizable cast. I mean Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau show up as the detectives investigating the deaths of Breacher’s team members. While the filmmakers may have been aiming for a certain level of narrative heft, it feels like the final product has fallen short.
My Advice: if you have a taste for a lot of blood and gore in your action movie, this is the one for you this weekend.