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Review: Sabotage (2014)

Sabotage (2014)

Directed by: David Ayer

Premise: Members of a DEA task force find themselves being knocked off one at a time after they raid a drug cartel’s safe house.

What Works: Although Sabotage is dominated by a male cast, the film is distinguished by two female performances. Mireille Enos plays the lone female member of the DEA team and she plays the role especially well. The character clearly has problems with drug abuse and Enos exudes an aura of instability that makes her dangerous. The cast of Sabotage also includes Olivia Williams as the homicide detective who pairs with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in an attempt to solve the murder mystery. Williams holds her own against the machismo of the male cast and it is easy to imagine a much better version of this story with her role as the central character. 

What Doesn’t: The cast of Sabotage is headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of the DEA team and this film represents a new low in the action star’s recent career. Ever since returning to the motion picture industry after his stint as governor of California, Schwarzenegger has struggled to recapture the success of his heyday despite admirable attempts in movies like The Last Stand and The Expendables 2. But Sabotage is a failure of an entirely different sort and it is one of the worst movies in Schwarzenegger’s career (which is saying something). Part of the problem is the character Schwarzenegger has been cast to play. The role is akin to Lee Marvin’s character in The Dirty Dozen but this film calls for a level of nuance and skill that are beyond Schwarzenegger’s capabilities. The part also mutes Schwarzenegger’s charm, the one thing that has always distinguished him from so many other muscular action stars, and he is wasted in the role. The other talent wasted in Sabotage is director David Ayer, the filmmaker who helmed impressive films like End of Watch and Training Day. Even Ayer’s lesser projects usually possess an authentic feel for the street and a grasp of police procedure, which has usually distinguished his films from other cops and robbers movies. Sabotage is so far flung from reality that is it begs to be read as a parody of a cop movie. It isn’t a parody; the movie is just lazy and virtually nothing in it is credible or makes any sense. The mystery does not proceed in a logical manner. As the story unfolds, plot twists abound but every time the filmmakers try to surprise the audience the results are just confusing because the reversals make no sense. For that matter, the moviemakers seem unclear who the lead character is supposed to be. Schwarzenegger is the natural fit, being an established movie star, but the plot keeps leaning toward Olivia Williams’ character only to have the focus wrenched back onto Schwarzenegger. The DEA team of this movie is not believable at all. This movie depicts them as a rogue unit, operating like a Navy SEAL team but with even less oversight. A rogue cop or even an independent team of cops isn’t unusual for this kind of movie but in order to give the story some credibility pictures like Dirty Harry and Bad Boys typically have a politician or a senior lawman who tries to reign in the hero. In Sabotage there’s no one in that role and this DEA team literally goes around shooting people without facing any consequences or even filing a police report. They come across much more like a street gang and while that may be the point it makes the movie all the more troubling. Sabotage has a very seedy quality to it but not in a way that is beneficial to the film. The movie romanticizes violent masculinity, with the characters constantly spouting coarse lines of dialogue that are supposed to sound tough but are just stupid and they beat up or shoot anyone who gets in their way. At least when Dirty Harry shot people they had it coming.

Bottom Line: Arnold Schwarzenegger has been involved in films of varying quality but Sabotage is among his worst projects and it’s even more disappointing to see David Ayer’s name attached to this garbage. At the very least this movie should have been fun but it’s a joyless slog.

Episode: #485 (April 6, 2014)