“Sabotage” seems like an independent movie with advantages. It is too stylish to be the usual sort of Hollywood general-release film, and its budget, though adequate, doesn’t support the number and variety of settings we might see in a Transformer film or something starring Tom Cruise.
But “Sabotage” has Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may be past his prime, but that just makes him ripe for anti-hero parts like the one he has here. He is joined by the always worthy Terrance Howard, dependable Sam Worthington, and a couple of notable women.
One is Mireille Enos, who played Brad Pitt’s wife in last year’s “World War Z.” As calm as she was in that part, she is over-the-top here, a coke-headed DEA agent with a taste for public sex and gore and the vocabulary of a sailor on Iwo Jima in ’45. “Vivid” might be the way to describe this character portrayal.
More muted but maybe even more impressive is Olivia Williams’s turn here. The Englishwoman sounds American. If she doesn’t sound like a Georgian (and there are jokes about sub-regional dialects here), that’s OK, because no one in the movies does a decent southern accent anymore. Williams plays a local homicide cop who gets mixed up in DEA business.
The story begins right away after the titles. A team of heavily-armed drug cops led by Breacher (Schwarzenegger) invades a villa defended by members of a drug-selling gang. Lizzy (Enos) has been undercover inside. She leads the team through ambushes to a stacks of banknotes on a loading pallet.
Director and co-writer David Ayres needs to work on his story-telling skills. There are a couple of places in the film where significant plot details are not made plain to the viewer. So when the team stuffs quart bags containing about $10,000,000 into a pipe beneath an artificially blocked toilet, it is not immediately clear that this is money our subjects are stealing for themselves. This is especially true as they then blow up the rest of the loot, which would seem to make accounting problematic.
For six months the team is under investigation. On the day that ends and Breacher is reunited with his squad, someone begins knocking off one after another of them. And we learn that someone has snatched the dough they had hidden in the sewer lines.
So the police detective steps in to investigate how one team member awoke to find himself locked in a travel trailer stalled over railroad tracks as the midnight freight was coming through and how another got nailed to the ceiling of his apartment. Breacher and the team think the drug sellers are doing the killing. They use the police investigation to provide them with their own leads.
But team members just keep dying in spectacular and distasteful ways. One, for example, dies in a shoot-out at a cabin in the woods where he is hiding. Breacher’s imagined version of this, with hired killers approaching from outside, turns out to be completely wrong. This is another story-telling mistake, I think, because the film doesn’t come back to correct the dramatization we saw of the mistaken theory.
As we get down to just a few team members surviving, someone suggests that perhaps one or two of the remaining ones are doing the killing. But who stole the money?
The complications resolve themselves in a flurry of late action. The last chase scene, with a tail-gunner in the trunk of the car being pursued, is really quite imaginative and was filmed with enough restraint that it goes on as long as it can and then ends reasonably.
But the conclusion of the main story isn’t the end of the picture. The movie’s last scene is an original bar shoot-out that resolves all the remaining plot problems in a blast of gritty violence. Pretty good stuff.
“Pretty good” if you like this sort of thing. “Sabotage” (I can’t explain the title) isn’t going to be the biggest-earning action picture of the year. It doesn’t have the humor or romance to give it broad support.
But it may be the most memorable action movie of the year. It would have been almost the only memorable one of the year recently ended.