Directed by David Ayer
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau
Action, Crime, Drama
Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t been in something as good as Sabotage for more than twenty years. In fact, this may be the best performance we’ve ever seen from the California-governing, “It feels like I’m cumin” body-building, Austrian-American action actor guru. Ever since his tenure as the Governator, Arnie’s been busy punting around DOA ideas that rely on his faded muscular glory. He’s more comfortable dog piling onto projects with old buddies rounding out their sixties (who look equally shabby firing large caliber rounds in the revealing light of slow motion.) All the black gear in the world can’t disguise the onslaught of nature’s clock.
Now attached to the Terminator reboot, a third Expendables movie and a preposterous follow up to Twins called Triplets (in which Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito realize they have a third sibling in the form of Eddie Murphy…seriously), Arnie’s star hasn’t fallen so much as hitched itself to the good will of his former A-list image. In so much as Schwarzenegger has become a hackneyed impression of himself, director David Ayer‘s willingness to work him into a straight-faced leading role is the first feat of bravery to run from Sabotage‘s gates. Arnie may get one masturbatory scene of pumping absurd amounts of iron but his role is never one of sinewy commando. Instead, he’s left to do the heavy lifting character-wise. It’s a novel idea: Arnie the actor. As the film races on, Ayer takes an increasingly sigh-inducing action behemoth and directs him back to relevance.
That feat is achieved with a pinch of reinvention and a chill gust of sobriety. Arnie’s dropped the shtick, lost the catch phrases and not relied solely on people’s collective memory of some impossibly jacked action hero. He does though, like the rest of his crew, go by a smarmy nickname: Breacher. He’s a rough and gruff veteran who chews on his cigars as much as the scenery, haunted by a gruesome snuff video that opens the film. In the grainy lo-fi of a dusty den, we watch Breacher watch a woman plead for her life, clawing in terror, calling out the name of her would-be savior. Her fear is absolute. The knife goes in clean, comes out stained.
There’s no context for what we just saw, just the arcane knowledge that it’s supremely fucked up. ‘8 Months Later’ flashes on the screen and we pick up in the midst of a DEA raid on a Cartel drug mansion. Surrounded by a motley crew of B-list gold including, but not limited to, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard and a scene stealing Mireille Enos (each with their own goofy, 80s homaging handle) Schwarzenegger is the cadence-garbling brains behind their lock-and-load-’em brawn. Charging through the confines of what resembles Tony Montana’s compound, Breacher and Co. off baddies without batting an eye. An army of squibs erase the need for cheap looking, post-production digital blood painting. Ayer’s use of practical effects are a sigh of relief for any adrenaline junkie tired of violence as a CGI exercise.
Ayer instead directs the chaos like a boxer, tucking into the action and ducking out into fisheye landscape pans. He compliments bloody close-ups with composition shots that keep the frenetic setting, with its many window dressings, established and consistent. With action shots this clean, you’d think he’s filming on a Swiffer. And never one to downplay the gruesomeness nature of violence, Ayer hangs viscus like a horror show. His revenge train is a trail of sanguine, a bouquet of grisly moxie. At the expense of satisfying character development, Sabotage is Ayer’s gift to the action nut, wrapped in a steamy shawl of intestines, large and small.
Playing with so much camp, the proceedings can become bumbling and even dumb at times, but that comes with the territory. Sabotage is an homage to the action delights of the past; campy, twisty, and at times noodle-brained but always enjoyable and usually about one step ahead of the audience. In the battle of tipping the hat to classic action movies, Ayer proves he knows what he’s doing best. In a John Breacher vs Jack Reacher showdown, the later doesn’t stand a chance. The only real unforgivable aspect is they never fit the Beastie Boys anthem in there somewhere.