dir: David Ayer, 2014
Sabotage is a fitting title for this Arnie flick. I say that because, if not for anything else, the film sabotages itself continuously throughout.
Another fitting title would’ve been Fuck: The Movie.
In short: A raucous group of undercover DEA agents raid a cartel safe-house, stealing ten million dollars along the way. This bounty however is then stolen from them. As they struggle to figure out who sold them out, they’re slowly picked off one by one by assumed cartel assassins. A local cop gets involved and things swirl into a storm of fuckery.
That, is the simplest way to put the plot.
Now to be fair, let me point out a few fairly enjoyable things about this film.
The film (and Arnie in a semi-recent Nerdist interview), prides itself on the realism of DEA maneuvers in combat. More often than not, these scenes don’t disappoint, running like a well thought out playthrough of your favorite first person shooter.
That’s all I really liked about this film, honestly.
Everything else is just…bad.
For one, when you get the second of three big plot twists in the film, it’s jarringly obtuse.
Sabotage has a lot of high-octane violence. But the amount of death that occurs near the end of the third act is just obscene. I say this because, even if you suspend most logic, it’s hard to believe that Lizzie and Sugar would think having a huge shootout in downtown Atlanta would help their situation. And over ten million dollars no less.
While I understand the narrative motivation behind Lizzie’s homicidal antics (see: her unnamed drug habit), it’s tepid at best. Let’s not even delve into the fact that as a character, Sugar is flatter than Iggy Azalea, pre-surgery.
The film does try to build motive, showing the volatility of the team and the world they inhabit. But again, it just doesn’t feel believable that this team would implode in this way with such homicidal gusto. This of course leads me to Sabotage’s lack of focus. On one hand it wants to be 2003’s S.W.A.T., but with more “fucks” and less coherence.* On the other hand, Sabotage tries to shed 95% of its plot in it’s last ten minutes.
In a snowballing fashion, Breach’s subplot of revenge against the cartel becomes an insulting MacGuffin in the last act. Before silencing Lizzie and then disappearing into downtown Atlanta, Breach reveals that he stole the ten million. We then learn that it of course is to be used as a bribe to find the man who tortured and murdered his wife. As the final showdown commences in a seedy Mexican bar, Sabotage becomes an Angry Gringo Western as Arnie proceeds to murder nearly everyone at the bar and then sits satisfied, knocking back a shot of whiskey.
What’ so insulting about this plot point is the fact that so much of the death in the film could’ve been avoided. If Breach had simply gotten his team to steal an additional ten million for his bribe, many of them could still be alive. I understand the film needed to pursue some kind of plot. I get that. But, Sabotage could’ve just as easily been a simple revenge narrative and completely skirted the facade of the first two acts.
This identity crisis is the fount of issues in Sabotage. While we have often become accustomed to expecting less and less of action films, Sabotage should hold a special place in the back of the shelf. It’s an okay film to watch in the background, or for the hell of it. But in terms of pure mechanics and pleasure, it just doesn’t hit its mark.
*Funnily enough, Ayer wrote S.W.A.T. back in 2003. He also wrote or directed a few crime thriller favorites (The Fast and The Furious, Training Day), which makes Sabotage that much more disappointing.
**Sabotage gets a 2 here because, in some bizzaro way, it’s still more watchable than Expendables 2.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope