Sabotage makes the bold attempt of re-imagining Agatha Christie’s seminal murder mystery novel And Then There Were None as a modern crime-thriller about a DEA special forces team that attempts to rip off a cartel, only to find their stolen loot missing and big target on their backs. After clearing departmental scrutiny, John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is finally given clearance to let his team of mad dogs out of the kennel; problem is, no sooner are they back on active duty when a mysterious assailant begins picking them off one by one.
As their numbers dwindle, Breacher’s team starts coming apart at the seams – openings for homicide detectives Caroline (Olivia Williams) and Jackson (Harold Perrineau) to exploit, as they attempt to work out what this fringe team of agents is hiding – hopefully in time to save the remaining survivors.
David Ayer is, by now, a brand unto himself; if a film has to do with hard-boiled tales of law enforcement along the California/Mexico stretch, there’s a 2 in 3 chance he’s involved. With that brand come certain trademarks and expectations (morally questionable cops, dark and gritty insight into urban crime, scenes of brutal violence) and in that respect, Sabotage does deliver the Ayer experience. As a piece of cinema, however, it’s unforgivably bad and manages to squander one of the best ensemble casts you could gather.
Schwarzenegger is still showing his age, but he is surprisingly restrained in the film; his performance (and the film as a whole) is light on actual action or stunt work, so calibrate expectations accordingly. Behind Arnold, however, stands a strong collection of talent that really carry this film. Sam Worthington (Avatar), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Josh Holloway (Lost), Max Martini (The Unit) and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) are electric fun as Breacher’s squad of unruly badasses – and Mireille Enos (The Killing) manages to stand at the head of that pack as Lizzy (she pretty much walks off with every scene she’s in). Added bonuses like Williams (The Sixth Sense) and Perrineau (Lost) only bolster things further; casting was never the problem, here.
What is the problem is Ayer’s execution as a director and the script that he and Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Swordfish) fashion out of Christie’s source material. Ayer has a short filmography as a director, but films like Street Kings didn’t bring him much acclaim. The found-footage style of End of Watch provided a fresh perspective on the buddy cop film format, but Sabotage has a look like Ayer’s couldn’t decide on a stylistic choice for his latest work. Traditional film segments look very at odds with digital segments that look like a home movie project; the framing and blocking is bafflingly amateurish, and the editing is sloppy. Basically this film – with its experienced director, talented cast and action icon leading man – looks like someone’s weekend home movie project.
The murder mystery story turns to complete goop by the final act, generating more confusion about what actually happened than satisfaction or closure. Ridiculous flashback gimmicks try to keep the journey interesting and surprising along the way, but the so-called “twists” in the film are all dead on arrival, leaving little room for revelation, development or proper earning of the film’s violent resolution.
Those just hoping for just some good-ol’ action fun – you get one major shootout set piece, a couple small sequences, plenty of blood, gore and foul language and that’s about it. Most of the film is cops of different orders tough-talking in between trash-talking, and while there some gems of dialogue in there, it’s not exactly the action thrill-ride many fans were probably expecting.
What else is there to say? If not for the strength of the cast and crew, Sabotage wouldn’t even be worth a mention. As it is, y0u’d be taking your chances even viewing this as a rental. Arnold said he’d be back, but the count on his comeback vehicles currently stands at a disappointing 0-3 success rate.
Sabotage is now playing in theaters. It is 109 minutes long and is Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use.