Film

And Then There Was Nonsense: 'Sabotage'

Sabotage won't set any new standards, but it's a serviceable entertainment for those who don't mind being misled.


Sabotage

Director: David Ayer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington,Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Harold Perrineau, Martin Donovan, Max Martini, Josh Holloway, Mireille Enos
Rated: R
Studio: Open Road
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-03-28 (General release)
UK date: 2014-03-28 (General release)
Trailer
Official site

When you look back over his career, when you consider the movies he made in the mid-'80s and early '90s, there's no denying one thing: Arnold Schwarzenegger was a major league movie star. Not a dime a dozen A-lister, but an international draw of such amazing box office appeal that he could greenlight anything just be expressing interest in it. His run was phenomenal. His desire to enter politics questionable. In the end, however, Schwarzenegger came out unscathed, a love child with his maid merely reducing him to a representative industry icon. Now, in the effort to rebuild his brand, he's going back to what made him a myth: violence, action, and familiarity. With his latest, Sabotage, the former Mr. Olympia comes up trumps in the writer (Skip Woods) and director (David Ayer) department. Where he fails, however, is in fine-tuning this material to be anything other than weird whodunit where a lunk-headed mystery is far more important than any kind of ass kicking or fire fights.

As part of a prolific bait and switch on the part of Open Road, the story here doesn't center on a DEA legend and his ragtag team of degenerate underlings. Instead, we get Ah-nold as John “Breacher” Wharton, a dedicated law enforcement official who decides to take matters into his own hands when his wife and son are killed by a drug cartel (this is not a spoiler, since we learn this within the first five minutes of the movie - and there are still 105 to go). During another raid with his group of hard drinking, hard drugging, hard deflowering pervs -- James "Monster" Murray (Sam Worthington), his cokehead wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), macho lunkhead Joe "Grinder" Phillips (Joe Manganiello), smooth operator Julius "Sugar" Edmonds (Terence Howard), Eddie "Neck" Jordan (Josh Holloway) and Tom "Pyro" Roberts (Max Martini) -- he decides to steal $10 million as some manner of metaphysical payback.

Naturally, both the Feds and the fiends find out that Breacher has robbed the bank, and they want to nail this man and his misfits. Unfortunately, the burglary was bungled and no one has the money. It was apparently stolen from the thieves. That doesn't stop the villains from putting out a hit on the gang and when bodies start piling up, the FBI gets involved. An agent named Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) becomes Breacher's unexpected ally, helping him put together the pieces of the puzzle regarding who is killing his crew while the rest of his team slowly falls apart. Eventually, someone snitches, a set-up is suspected, and we learn who is really behind this baffling case of "find the missing cash". The ending offers up a senseless bloodbath which does little except provide closure for one character and a lot of plot holes for the audience.

Because he is such a superstar, former or not, and so in tune with what works for his limited performance persona, Arnold Schwarzenegger is excellent in Sabotage. He gives a real layerede performance, full of bravado and vulnerability, his character constantly at odds with what he did (breaking the law and trying to steal the drug money) and playing father figure to his unruly collection of tatted up brats. This collection of Central Casting cliches, including a bro, a whore, a lothario, a loose cannon, a realist and a reactionary are nothing more than F-bomb dropping victim fodder, a group of future corpses being used to justify the film's semi-slasher like And Then There Were None leanings. Yes, this is supposedly based on Agatha Christie's classic novel, but don't worry. The closest Sabotage comes to a clockwork mystery is the constant clamoring for clues. We get hair fibers, fingerprints, and piles of possible dossiers. None of them add up to anything engaging.

Frankly, Ayer and Woods took the wrong approach here. The movie being sold in the trailers is the film they should have made. Amend that, they should have dropped the dopey dead family angle all together and given Schwarzenegger's Breacher a less obvious reason for demanding retribution. In films like Street Kings, Training Day, and End of Watch, Ayer masterfully balanced noticeable plot contrivance with strong character work. Here, the focus should have been on a DEA raid gone bad, or a corrupt seed sprouting resentment within the ranks. Perhaps even ditch the entire action angle and deal with these well-armed delinquents as people, not cinematic chess pawns. A movie made up of their personal faults and foibles would be a lot better than a lame whodunit with a consistently shrinking suspect pool.

Indeed, by the time of the double denouement (the killer is ID'd, as is the real thief) we no longer want to know the truth. We just want more moments like the engaging car chase through dark Atlanta streets, or the mid-movie attempt to track potential hitmen in a dilapidated urban slum. These are the reasons to see Sabotage, not some tired narrative gimmick already perfected by a British writer 70 years ago and even then Woods doesn't get things right. The reason And Then There Were None worked so well is that the entire story was a set-up for a last act twist that took the reader's breath away. In essence, it begat the entire "untrustworthy narrator" ideal. Here, aside from a couple of sound performances, nothing gives us pause. We keep waiting for the movie to pop. All it does is plod.

At nearly two hours and with nothing truly warranting such a length, Sabotage will become a test. It will gauge how an audience reacts fiscally to Arnold 2.0. It will tell studios whether to continue such classic bait and switch marketing and measure a viewers tolerance for inertia over action. This is no 100% pure adrenalin ride. Instead, it's a collection of conceits that never come together either narratively or visually (thankfully, Ayer avoids the nausea inducing first person POV that plagued the otherwise decent End of Watch). During the '80s and '90s, Arnold and his collaborators set the action movie benchmark so high that it took a true outsider, John Woo, to reconfigure it. Sabotage won't set any new standards, but it's a serviceable entertainment for those who don't mind being misled.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image