PLOT: Months after an elite team of DEA agents executes a successful raid on a drug cartel, they find their number dwindling under gruesome circumstances.
It can't be said SABOTAGE is a good movie, exactly, but I wonder if it strives to be one. Made up of healthy doses of profanity, booze, blood, macho posturing and violent nihilism, the David Ayer film positions itself as a modern day Sam Peckinpah tale, where vulgar men with guns live and die by them and there is no such thing as true camaraderie. SABOTAGE exists fully in this world and has no remorse for its brutality or misanthropy, which is why at the end of it - after about 100 people have been messily murdered and nary a shred of goodwill exists - I couldn't help but grudgingly admire that the film lives and dies by its own nasty code.
It's still an ungainly thing, totally pumped up on angry adrenaline; it's like the movie version of the loudest roided-up jerk lifting weights at the gym. The narrative doesn't make much sense and the roster of characters is stunningly unsympathetic, a group of people no one on Earth would want to spend a lick of time with. I'm definitely not a person who needs their protagonists to be "likable," but the rogues gallery presented here is particularly unappealing. That Ayer doesn't necessarily want us to like these people is part of SABOTAGE's crass charm.
It is, of course, another vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger 2.0 (or has he reached 3.0 at this stage?), and Arnie is Arnie, as ever. Here he plays Breacher, the leader of a rough DEA task force. During one mission within the walls of a cartel hideout, Breacher's crew decides to steal about $10 million worth of drug money. After they've blown away about two dozen men, they cleverly stash it in the sewer system so they can reclaim it later, after the bodies have been cleaned up - but when they go back for the loot, it's gone. The thieves have been stolen from.
Several months later, Breacher is wasting away at a desk job because no one trusts him in the field (his superiors still think he's stolen the money) while the rest of his team idly waits for something to happen. ("Idly" isn't necessarily the right word; they drink and verbally abuse each other. A lot.) Breacher gets the good news that his team is being reinstated, and then the group is once again kicking in doors and mowing down bad guys. But the good times stop rolling once a couple of the members are gruesomely killed, indicating someone is out to get them and picking them off one by one. Is it the cartel they stole from, or is it someone within their own group?
Ayer comes from the world of hardboiled men; formerly of the Navy, he's best known for penning gritty police procedurals like TRAINING DAY and END OF WATCH. Here he's put together his most testosterone-infused creation yet, as a large portion of screen time is devoted to either obnoxious male bonding, or people being riddled with bullets. Any person not fond of high body counts and obscene language should be prepared to suffer through immense amounts of both in SABOTAGE. Ayer is a capable director and he stages carnage and bloodshed with evident vigor, and he apparently relishes scenes of men behaving badly just as much. If I were handed a buck for every variation of the line "f*ck you dude!" I'd be a millionaire by the time the credits rolled.
Also present in much of Ayer's work is a pessimistic worldview, and SABOTAGE, though it's predominantly a blustery action movie, has a moroseness about it that edges it slightly away from the typical Schwarzenegger fare. For his part, Arnie handles himself well enough during his character's more quiet scenes; Breacher is a tortured man, haunted by the murder of his wife, so he does a lot of sitting around, drinking and contemplating. However, when he's asked to engage in some of the more colorful wordplay, he sounds like… Arnold struggling through colorful wordplay. But you know what you're going to get with the big guy, and a devoted Arnold fan won't have much to complain about here.
The supporting cast is an odd thing, because there are interesting actors here but their characters are all but interchangeable. Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello and Max Martini are the bros in Arnie's squad, and every single one of them has the exact same personality; they're eager to curse, drink, ogle a stripper, shoot something, and that's about it. Sometimes it's even easy to forget one or the other is in the movie.
But special note should be made about the women in this picture. (Actually there are only two lead females, the rest of the ladies are strippers.) It can not be said that Ayer doesn't play fair when it comes to gender politics, because both Olivia Williams and Mireille Enos have even nastier dispositions than their male counterparts. Williams is a detective on the case who develops an uneasy alliance with Schwarzenegger (and kudos to you if you pick up even the smallest hint of chemistry between these two), while Enos is the most damaged and antagonistic of the DEA task force. These women are profane, intense and, well, completely unladylike, with Enos in particular gnashing into her role as fervently as a rabid dog. I don't know if Ayer deserves praise for making all things equal on this front, but give him a bit of credit for ensuring his women are active participants in the mayhem and not just sideline characters.
The way it handles its women is indicative of SABOTAGE as a whole; it's unapologetic and offers no comfort. It ends on a down note and once the smoke has cleared I was unsure whether or not it was even "fun." It's not boring, I'll admit, and I still walk away from it thinking there's something commendable in its coarseness. Then again, that may say something about me more than it does the film.