Sabotage is disappointing for a number of reasons, not least of which is its failure to be about sabotage, or to even feature the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage.” More importantly, it’s gross and off-putting, a luridly “gritty” crime drama populated by sleazy characters (including the alleged good guys) and marked by a casual disregard for human life. It’s an ugly movie.
And did I mention it doesn’t even use the Beastie Boys song? I mean, come on.
Ex-governor and occasional movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as John “Breacher” Wharton, cigar-chomping, neck-tattooed leader of a DEA special-ops team in Atlanta. Breacher’s crew includes a motley array of interchangeable hyper-masculine dirtbags with nicknames like Monster (Sam Worthington, sporting a braided chin-beard), Grinder (Joe Manganiello), Neck (Josh Holloway), Sugar (Terrence Howard), and a few more played by less famous actors. The one female member of the group, Lizzy (Mireille Enos), is married to Monster, and it’s strongly implied that she’s a skanky crack whore.
We meet the team in the middle of a mission that ends with them stealing some $10 million from a drug cartel, because they’re the kind of badasses who steal money from drug cartels. Fortunately for them, the DEA can’t prove they stole it, so nobody gets in trouble. Unfortunately for them, they can’t spend it, either, because now it’s missing again. Then some of the less important members of the team start turning up dead, murdered in gruesome ways that director David Ayer (End of Watch) seems to delight in showing us. Breacher and the others conclude that the cartel is seeking revenge, a completely unforeseeable consequence of stealing $10 million from them.
The murders draw the attention of a local homicide detective, Caroline (Olivia Williams, doing an embarrassing Georgia accent), and her ineffectual partner (Harold Perrineau). Breacher works with Caroline — without revealing too much about the missing money, of course — to track down leads and save his team. Meanwhile, in his off hours, Breacher sits at home in the dark and re-watches the video of his wife being tortured and killed by the very cartel he’s now at odds with. You’d think a man could only endure a video like that once, but I guess it’s one of those things where you notice something new every time.
Above-the-law antiheroes are one thing — in their best moments, this group reminded me of Vic Mackey’s strike team on “The Shield” — but Breacher’s disciples are uniformly abusive, vulgar, mean-spirited, and (with one exception) wholly unrepentant. Incapable of self-reflection, they’re the kind of lowlifes who honor a fallen comrade by going to a strip club, or by staying home and having a stripper delivered. You get the uneasy feeling that the movie doesn’t actually realize how nasty these idiots are. The hero, Breacher, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but I’d bet money that Ayer disagrees with me.
Ayer is credited second on the screenplay, after Skip Woods. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess the bulk of it came not from Ayer (whose writing credits include Training Day and End of Watch) but from Woods (whose rap sheet includes Swordfish, Hitman, and A Good Day to Die Hard). Unlike Ayer’s other work, Sabotage gives no sense of having been made by people who are familiar with law enforcement (or with women, considering how badly Lizzy and Caroline come off). When it’s not one of the DEA agents being brutally, gruesomely murdered, it’s some poor innocent bystander being dispatched as collateral damage. It’s a repellant, distasteful execution of a boilerplate story, distinguishable from a thousand other movies only by the oily layer of film it leaves on your soul.
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