“Sabotage” is the most exciting, satisfying, suspenseful and intelligent Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick in a while. The best way to describe it: an ultraviolent actioner crossed with a revenge flick, crossed with an Agatha Christie-style mystery.
The movie is directed and co-written (with Skip Woods) by David Ayer, who wrote the excellent crime drama “Training Day” and was the writer/director behind the Jake Gyllenhaal/Michael Pena cop drama “End of Watch” in 2012. Even though “End of Watch” didn’t completely work for me, Ayer still managed to breathe some refreshing and thrilling life into a tired subgenre, and he does something similar with “Sabotage.” With “End of Watch,” Ayer was aiming for realism (the movie used an interesting but ultimately frustrating and superfluous combination of found footage and cinema verite), whereas “Sabotage” is more in the vein of a cartoon-y, ‘80s/’90s-style action ensemble.
The picture revolves around members of a special DEA task force. They’re a big, beefy, tatted-up, rambunctious group, complete with cool, action-movie tough-guy nicknames. There’s James “Monster” Murray, (Sam Worthington, who struggles to maintain his American accent near then end), Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello) and Eddie “Neck” Jordan (“Lost” star Josh Holloway). In addition, there’s Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Winter), Tom “Pyhro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bryce “Tripod” McKneely (Kevin Vance) and the solo female Lizzy Murray (Mireille Enos, who gives a wild hot mess of a performance.
And, of course, how could one forget old Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger himself, as Jack Wharton, the leader who tries to keep these unruly men in order.
These guys are ultra-loud, obnoxious and rowdy: At a celebration, a detective arrives to conduct business, and they mistake her for a stripper. They’re more like mercenaries than DEA agents — exaggerated comic-book mercenaries at that. And, yet, there’s something sort of genuine about them; as vulgar and boneheaded as they can be at times, they’re still a tight-knit unit. And there’s also something endearing about Schwarzenegger playing the stern parental figure of the group.
The comedic banter between the team doesn’t always work as well as Ayer probably would have liked. Sometimes the repartee feels forced, and occasionally the performances are just a little too over-the-top and hammy.
When drug money — that the team planned on taking for themselves — goes missing, they start dropping one by one. Who could it be? This is where the mystery comes in. It isn’t nearly as elaborate or intelligent as it would be in a more traditional mystery story, but it’s still legitimately tense and suspenseful.
It’s also sort of rare these days to see an action movie as violent and gory as “Sabotage”; it’s a relief to see such bold, R-rated, cringe-worthy violence. The team members get killed off in elaborate and grotesque ways. At the same time though, Ayer doesn’t overdo it. He makes sure to put story and character over action and violence, so there’s weight behind the violence — in other words, it’s deserved.
“Sabotage” is one of the most refreshing, R-rated action movies of late. The movie contains not one but two strong female characters who match the men at every turn.
And perhaps best of all, the movie tells its own story, creates its own characters and contains some intelligence.
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