If you prefer an action movie to have a sense of humor mixed into the mayhem, or you need a central hero to root for as people are indiscriminately killed in constant hails of bullets, then Sabotage is not your kind of film. In the 1980s, big action films were fun roller-coaster rides that didn’t take themselves too seriously. Sabotage is a 21st century “gritty” action movie so it’s grim, humorless, and generally devoid of any personality.
John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the leader of a strike team for the federal Drug Enforement Agency. As the film opens, Breacher’s team is blasting its way into a luxury home owned by a drug cartel. His gang of law enforcement officers lays waste to the security personnel on hand and confiscates an enormous quantity of cash, but not until they’ve skimmed about $ 10 million off the top for themselves. When the stolen cash is itself stolen, the members of the strike team begin to suspect they have a traitor in their ranks.
As the team tries to determine what happened to their ill-gotten gains, they begin to be picked off one-by-one like a grisly version of Ten Little Indians. The Georgia detective assigned to the case points out that no one steals from street gangs or drug cartels, not even cops. Thefts result in swift retribution because examples must be made of any thieves if you want to maintain order in a criminal enterprise. So are cartel hitmen behind the murders? Or is it someone closer to home?
Schwarzenegger looks buff and ready to rumble despite a distractingly bad dye job and delivers his standard stoic action hero performance. The members of Breacher’s team are an all-star cast of familiar faces: Sam Worthington (Avatar), Terrence Howard (Prisoners), Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, True Blood), Josh Holloway (Intelligence, Lost), and Mireille Enos (The Killing, World War Z), among others. This assemblage of acting talent looks good on paper, but it’s a bit of a snooze in practice because they all play the same character – a hard-drinking, profanity-spewing operative who looks like he (or she) stepped out of a Soldier of Fortune magazine. Even Enos goes as butch and vile as she can so that her estrogen doesn’t dilute the ocean of testosterone flowing from the screen.
These hard-working Feds take time out from their law enforcement duties to trash strip clubs, play videogames, consume cases of alcohol and threaten each other’s lives every three minutes when a petty argument breaks out. Instead of being awe-struck by the badassery on display, you will more likely wonder how any of these anti-social degenerates could possibly keep a job in federal law enforcement. But everyone knows that governmental oversight doesn’t extend to a squad led by Ahnold, so I should quit nitpicking. But, I must admit as one member of the law enforcement team after another meets a gory end, I couldn’t help thinking that the world is a safer place because the cops are dead.
In the thirty years since The Terminator hit theater screens, things haven’t improved for minorities and women in action films. How did we know that a cartel owned the home and the illegal cash? Because they’re a bunch of Hispanics dancing in the background. Most of the female roles in Sabotage are filled by strippers. Mirielle Enos’ female DEA agent is accepted by her colleagues as long as she’s willing to serve as a sexual harassment piñata. Even the female homicide detective played by Olivia Williams is subjected to questions by a curious male colleague about the size of her lover’s manhood. I’m not a prude. I just feel for the actresses who have to take these roles to be in a Hollywood action movie.
If you’re going to make an action film with one-dimensional characters, sophomoric dialogue, and a “been there, done that” plot, then it better be fun. Escape Plan (2013) starring an aging Stallone and Schwarzenegger was mostly brain dead, yet at the same time it was a blast. Sabotage won’t leave you with a smile on your action-loving face. It’ll leave you wanting a shower.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.