Mark Reviews Movies

Sabotage (2014)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Martin Donovan

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 3/28/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 28, 2014

The moral of Sabotage is that if you bite at the bad guys, they bite back, at which point it's time to bite again, which brings us back to original statement: If you bite at the bad guys, they bite back. No one really wins, but there sure are a lot of bloody teeth-marks.

There's nothing wrong with a little—or a lot—of nihilism every once in a while, but if we're going to be dragged through the morass of the worst human nature has to offer, we should at least expect a point to getting so dirty. Sabotage gets its characters really filthy—mostly in the form of being covered in blood. They posture and chomp on every other line of dialogue like they've starving to say something for years. These characters don't feel like human beings; they exist to pose, yell, and shoot but primarily to follow one bloody trail to the next. They're not pawns in an uncaring universe but ones of a routine, second-guessing plot.

There's not a sympathetic character in the lot. Even the team's leader—the de facto central protagonist—has a back story that is loaded with a despicable atrocity perpetrated against him (not too despicable for the movie to show it in graphic detail, apparently)—so much so, in fact, that another character notes that his boss' soul died. This, of course, leaves the question of what happened to other characters'. Their nicknames have more personality than they do.

This isn't an awful movie, though. As directed by David Ayer, it has a sense of urgency that belies how very little substance there actually is to the screenplay by Ayer and Skip Woods. It's especially true in the movie's handful of action sequences, which burst out of nowhere after the characters have talked long enough. These scenes are frantic without sacrificing visual comprehension, even if their very existence sometimes defies logic.

The movie opens with a raid on the mansion of a drug cartel leader. John "Breacher" Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crew of DEA Special Operations Team members kill the hostile occupants of the place in a precise raid that leaves plenty of the red stuff on the walls and dripping from bullet holes in the ceiling. This is rather tame compared to the violence and grotesque imagery that follows, which includes chunks of a body scattered alongside railroad tracks, a disemboweled corpse nailed to a ceiling with its insides hanging out, and a few close-ups of people being shot in the head. It would be of passing interest if not for the sense that the violence and ugliness exist solely to serve themselves.

Anyway, Wharton and his team have a plan to steal $10 million of the cartel's money, hiding it in the sewer via a toilet pipe. When they go to recover their loot, it is missing, and soon, the team is under investigation for what they did.

Six months later, the DEA has decided to stop the investigation and put the team back to work. They fight a lot, argue about how there is no longer any trust between them, and go out to the strip club to get drunk and pick fights with people who try to stop them from being obnoxious.

Aside from the most basic of backgrounds, this is pretty much all the characters do. "Monster" (Sam Worthington) and Lizzy (Mireille Enos) are married and squabble often over her sexual aggressiveness. "Grinder" (Joe Manganiello) is the brute force, and "Pyro" (Max Martini) is the demolitions expert. Actually, that's about it in terms of characterization here. "Neck" (Josh Holloway), "Tripod" (Kevin Vance), and "Sugar" (Terrence Howard) are in the background to join in the in-fighting, teasing, and general yelling.

The plot kicks in as the team starts being picked off one by one, and even then, they don't do much of anything else. At least the murders bring in Caroline (Olivia Williams), a local homicide detective who won't take the team's abuse. It's refreshing at first, but then it becomes painfully clear that she'll be playing second fiddle to Breacher while becoming her own generic archetype. Williams chews her lines with as much as the rest of the cast, but at least she has the good sense to do so at a volume below a howl.

Then there's more arguing and suspicion-raising as Breacher and Caroline try to follow the evidence to the killers while Caroline tries to uncover the secrets of the team's past. Eventually, the movie starts to put the pieces together, although it takes a lot of wheel-turning before anyone gets the notion that maybe someone on the team is involved in the murders. The revelation of the mystery is so sudden and inconsequential that we're left wondering where the real answer is.

It's once again an excuse for a pair of action sequences—one in which characters laugh at or blow off collateral damage and another in the form of epilogue that allows resolution to a piece of background information. It's in these moments that Sabotage is at its most proficient, but even then, it doesn't cover up the gaping holes where the characters and sense of a plot arc should be.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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