Film Review: Sabotage

The more things change, the more they remain the same—Arnold. In 'Sabotage,' bits and pieces of Schwarzenegger's persona are successfully welded onto his role as a DEA team leader at war with drug cartels and himself.

In case you miss the point, the credits of Sabotage are written in blood, dripping, red, for those still puzzling over which body parts are what—intestines, or other butcher shop throwaways. But there’s this: Sabotage, the latest testosterone-driven shoot ’em up from David Ayer (screenwriter for Training Day, director of End of Watch), happily stretches the action genre as far as possible to include a human interest story centering around its lead, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

In Sabotage, which packs many more punches than his “come-back” film of last year, The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger is Breacher Wharton, the head of a DEA team infiltrating drug cartels. This time out he has the support of a witty script and a crew of fine actors making up his family, as he refers to them. Pretty outstanding are Sam Worthington, nearly unrecognizable as the scruffily bearded “Monster,” with one of those dangling beads on a wisp of hair; and Terrence Howard, as a low-key but surprising “Sugar.”  There is the obligatory female fighter (thanks to breakthroughs such as Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider character) played by Mireille Enos, sometimes too screechingly.

Olivia Williams, a British actor, is effective as a cool-headed detective investigating the systematic picking off of Breacher’s team—perhaps an inside job? —and tracking a certain swiped $10 million. (We are privy to the heist in the obligatory opening action shot of the film.) Though her Southern accent—the film is set in Atlanta, with some nice visuals by photographer Bruce McCleery—is as intermittent as bad WiFi, she provides ballast for Breacher, and a few other things along the way.

And how has Schwarzenegger held up?  Can he still wield a weapon and take a jump?  The film is not so much a reinvention, that overly used word and concept, as a dusting off.  His age is not diminished or hidden, but exploited—in a good way.  So are real-life bits we know about him, such as a veggie-cutting establishing shot in Breacher’s kitchen, which plays off Arnold’s health-consciousness.  The howler of the movie is the line he snaps to one of his bosses: “You are 48 percent body fat!”

A sufficient number of action scenes fill out the formula. Yet some of the language—even from this rough-and-tumble gang—is gratuitous. The “eu-www” component is supplied by some toilet humor that goes beyond the usual poop jokes. 

Still, there are some highly creative editing insertions (nod to Mr. Soderbergh for the Sex, Lies, etc. format) of video and docu-like footage from an earlier timeline.  One entails a product placement and ritual viewing that Apple people might find disconcerting, but which explains a lot. Other flashbacks and characters’ explanations are occasionally baffling, though clearly designed to give a quick, breathless fill-in-the-blank background to the team’s work.   

That’s not why people are going to see Sabotage, anyway.