By Jason Koenigsberg
The Arnold comeback parade continues in 2014 with David Ayer’s gritty, cop thriller Sabotage. I was a fan of The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger’s first lead role after being the “Governator” of California and thought that was a lot of fun to see him back in his game. I found Escape Plan to be an enjoyable throwback action picture with him teaming up along side his old pal Sylvester Stallone. So seeing the world’s most famous Austrian on the big screen is always a welcome sight for me.
His newest starring vehicle, Sabotage is not nearly as much fun as the previous films I just mentioned, and it is a far cry from the Spike Jonze/Beastie Boys “Sabotage”. This movie takes its plot and its characters very seriously. Unfortunately, the screenplay written by Ayers and Skip Woods is not very good. The plot is overly convoluted involving a corrupt team of Federal DEA agents (led by Schwarzenegger), stolen drug money, kidnapping, torture, extortion and double crosses. It is tedious and contrived with dialogue that serves no purpose other than to simply move the plot along instead of develop the characters into being more three-dimensional.
The conversations are banal and they chug the movie along only breaking it up for a violent shoot out between characters that the audience does not care about because other than Schwarzenegger, we have not invested any emotion or interest in them.
This is a real shame because the movie is filled with great character actors that could deliver memorable performances if they were given anything memorable to say. Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington (almost unrecognizable here with a shaved head, tattoos and a braided goatee), Josh Holloway and Martin Donovan lend their talents to this project for an obvious quick paycheck, not to sink their teeth into any challenging, scene-chewing roles, which they have shown they are very capable of in a lot of their previous work.
The action is good for the most part, however a lot of the shoot-outs feel like you are watching someone else play a video game. The squib work is top notch and Sabotage is filled with squibs. I would rather see squibs any day than more CGI blood effects. This is a very violent, brooding film. The blood flows like it would in a vampire movie, which is refreshing at times since so many films today are forced by their studio heads to be stuck in PG-13 purgatory with their action sequences. During certain scenes the excessive violence is shocking and powerful (a sniper taking someone out in a diner was one such example that really stood out), during other scenes the realistic bloodshed just felt unnecessary and glorified violence.
Schwarzenegger himself does a solid job in what is probably his most serious and reserved acting since Raw Deal back in 1986. He has very few signature humorous moments because the script does not allow him to. He handles the material well, it’s just that the material is not worthy of his or his good but inexpensive supporting casts abilities.
Despite it’s intense action scenes, Sabotage felt flat. The pacing was very slow when it involved boring discourse between Schwarzenegger and his band of DEA misfits and extreme when it was time for a shoot ‘em up scene. Usually Arnold’s appearance in a film such as this could elevate the mood, yet here everything is taken so seriously he never even gets the opportunity to.
That is the biggest problem with Sabotage. It is not worth recommending based on its merits as a film, nor is it good enough to recommend for even its intense action. The real shame is that it is not even worth recommending to the biggest Schwarzenegger fans because the Arnold that they know and love is nowhere to be found. The style and humor he brought to such films as Predator, T2 and even The Last Stand is absent here.
Arnold fans are better off staying at home and re-watching one of those films, but if they do see it, they will probably need to see something to lighten the mood afterwards so they should watch this:
Now that will always be Sabotage to me. Thank you Spike Jonze.