Sabotage (2014)

This is a movie that revels in it’s own unpleasantness. I’ve had this flick floating around in my peripherals for a while, mostly out of morbid curiosity so, on a grey overcast ‘stat’ holiday Monday, while my girlfriend slumbered (she HATES Arnie), I tossed it on.
I’m a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films from the 80s and early 90s, but I can’t say I got ‘fanboy crazy’ when ‘The Governator’ decided to try a ‘come-back’ to Tinseltown. I haven’t gone out of my way to sear my eyeballs with his attempts at ‘Lumbering Geriatric FORMER Action Star Unable to Let Go’ness, but I will admit that it was fun seeing him turn up in ‘The Expendables 1 – 2’. THIS one…I would hesitate to call ‘fun’.
The Story follows a covert special-ops team for the DEA who, after jacking $10 000 000 during a Cartel safe house raid, start finding themselves being taken out by persons unknown…often in startlingly gruesome ways. Schwarzengger plays ‘Breacher’, the Team Lead who is harbouring something resembling PTSD, as a result of his wife and son being tortured and murdered by The Mexican Cartel a few years prior. Along the way, he grudgingly teams up with a determined Georgia detective named ‘Brentwood’ (Olivia Williams) to try and figure out who’s gunning for him and his people.
This flick is ugly. Not in presentation, but in attitude. It’s tough to get invested in the plight of the protagonists when the protagonists are completely unsympathetic low-life assholes. Actually, pretty much EVERYONE who turns up on-screen is doomed to be a human piece of shit in one way or another. It’s funny, because this movie reminded me VERY much of another by director David Ayer and that was ‘Fury’ (2014). That was another one where the vile personas of the ‘Good Guys’ REALLY got in the way of me rooting for them. THIS one, like THAT one, had me counting down to when these people would get killed off in a deservedly violent fashion. The DEA squad that forms the nucleus of the story are all macho, tattoo’d and pierced jerks (with Tough Guy call-signs like ‘Pyro’, ‘Monster’, ‘Tripod’ and ‘Neck’ etc), who look like they all belong on the Wrong Side of a jail cell. When we don’t watch them violently gunning down faceless henchmen, we’re treated to scenes of them viciously insulting one another while sexually molesting strippers or assaulting people just for doing their jobs. They all traipse around with this over-cooked swagger, and never once do ANYTHING that really gets you on their side. Everything that happens to them…they sure seem to deserve! There’s one female in the group named ‘Lizzie’ (Merielle Enos) whose face I really wanted to claw off her skull. Not only did I find her physically unattractive, but the amount of ‘crass’ that they injected into the character (probably to keep up with the Testosterone Overdose that are the male characters) was absolutely maddening. I HATE real-life violence against women…but I wanted to punch this bitch right in her face!! See?!! Now this flick has turned my attitude ugly!!
Speaking of ‘ugly’, I need to mention the violence. This is one helluva a nihilistic, bloody flick…right from the very first shot (tight close-up of video depicting a woman being mercilessly tortured…really pleasant). I commend David Ayers attempt at making the action realistic, but there are times when the tone of it seems confused. This is a flick that really could’ve benefited from a little ‘distancing’ from real-life; a little more of a ‘fantastical’ veneer, maybe in the mold of late 80s action classics like ‘Lethal Weapon’ (1987) or ‘Die Hard’ (1988). Here, innocent bystanders, on more than one occasion, are brutally killed while the team members engage in gun battles and high-speed car chases. There’s one sequence involving a random bicyclist getting bloodily smashed into the windshield of a speeding car, only to then get completely splattered when the car finally slams into a parked tow truck. Blood…everywhere. Innocent blood. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some hardcore, unapologetic violence in my action movies, despite finding real-life violence disgusting and scary, but this was a little much. It just seemed like Ayer didn’t know when to censor himself to better serve his story and became fixated on the concept and execution of ‘real’-looking violence, without taking into account the detrimental effect it may (and did) have on the tone. Bottom line, realistic action violence certainly has it’s place, but THIS style of narrative is not necessarily it. In all likelihood, this is a personal reaction due to the plethora of violent and disgusting images we’re seeing from war-torn hell-holes like Syria, Iraq and The Ukraine. Seeing real-life torture and murder is HIGHLY disturbing and we seem to encounter it everywhere in the media these days…and that hideous bullshit deeply saddens me. So, when I put on a piece of Action Movie Fantasy, I don’t want to be made acutely aware of the ugliness that exists beyond the cozy confines of my two-bedroom apartment. THIS movie did that. It made the blood-letting seem too real and grim, and that sullied my hope for a lazy bout of cinematic ‘escapism’. This ‘Confusion of Tone’ also makes me wonder what Ayer has in mind for the green-lit ‘Suicide Squad’ adaptation.
On a technical level, this flick does work. The sound design, particularly during the many gunfights, had some nice ‘punch’ and range to it. The cinematography was an interesting mix of nicely lit and composed interior scenes and outdoor sequences that looked ‘hand held’ and naturally-lit, while the props and costumes felt appropriate, despite the teams attire making them seem more like individualistic mercenaries than elite DEA agents.
Arnie is joined by the recognizable likes of Sam Worthington (‘Avatar’), Josh Holloway (‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’), and Terrence Howard (‘Iron Man’) as key members of his squad, while Olivia Williams detective character is joined by Harold Perrineau (‘Lost’). Regardless of the quality of these actors resume’s, for the most part it doesn’t help them, as the characters they are playing are virtually irredeemable on The Page anyway. Perhaps the fact that they got THAT across is actually some kind of testament to their abilities…but maybe not in the way they intended.
All in all, ‘Sabotage’ (formerly ‘Breacher’) is a competently pieced-together movie that suffers from an uncomfortable level of ‘ugly’ in a script that abruptly throws a badly-timed and clumsily-handled twist into the ‘reveal’ of the culprits, not to mention coming with a surprise 4th Act that feels like it was lifted from a different film. Arnie is just Arnie and really doesn’t bring much to the story…aside from the ‘novelty’ of his presence. The gun-play is, at times, exhilarating, but is often marred by actions or consequences of a surprisingly nasty turn. If you’re an Action Movie fan who is able to watch a flick without letting your ‘humanity’ get in the way of what you’re seeing, then this one may work for you. But if you like a little more distance between you and the ‘unpleasantness’, feel free to skip this one. You won’t be missing much.

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