When Arnold Schwarzenegger made his brief uncredited cameo in 2010’s "The Expendables," it seemed to signal the former superstar’s return from political exile to his native, ass-kicking action movie habitat.
Four years later, the comeback hasn’t gone as planned.
"The Expendables 2," featuring an expanded Governator presence, grossed less than its predecessor. As he stepped further into the spotlight with true lead roles in last year’s "The Last Stand" and "Escape Plan," the results, quality wise, were lukewarm at best.
Meanwhile, at the box office, lukewarm would be considered an improvement. While his last two efforts played well abroad, domestically they stand alongside the failed Conan spin-off "Red Sonja" as the worst grossing films in his career (and generally speaking, it’s never a good thing to be mentioned in the same sentence as "Red Sonja").
Blame it on poor material (the old jokes have become exactly that). Blame it on his broken-down public image – or, perhaps worse yet for an action hero, his broken-down body. Blame it on the fact that he’s the face of a type of innocently dumb, sincerely mindless action movie that doesn’t play with today’s cynical, grittier tastes. The fact of the matter is the general public is telling Arnold to talk to the hand.
Instead of licking his wounds and safely heading back to familiar territory, however, "Sabotage" finds Schwarzenegger briefly pushing his persona in a new direction. It’s not simply that the film is unexpectedly more murder mystery than action thriller; "Sabotage" is easily the most unpleasant, most vulgar and most violent movie on Arnold’s resume. Credit where credit is due for trying something new, but considering the film’s startlingly mean, brainlessly scummy ugliness, it qualifies merely as a not-quite-noble failure.
Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the rugged old leader of a rough-and-tumble DEA task force filled with corrupt psychopaths (including Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Josh Holloway, Joe Manganiello and a trying painfully hard Mireille Enos) with nicknames like Monster, Grinder, Pyro and … Neck? On an early mission, the team hides $10 million of drug money – in between plentiful splattery headshots – to claim for themselves. However, when they double back on the scene, the cash has gone missing.
One internal affairs investigation and suspension later, the group comes back together. Their happy, profane-tastic reunion is short-lived, however, as one by one team members are turning up brutally murdered. One is parked in front of a speeding train; another is killed, gutted and hung from the ceiling like a mobile designed by Hannibal Lector.
With his crew’s numbers dwindling down in gruesome "Ten Little Indians" fashion (the movie’s original title was fittingly "Ten," though there are only nine team members so … ), Breacher hooks up with Investigator Brentwood (Olivia Williams, sporting a sassy Southern drawl) to try to piece together the case. Based on the gory crime scenes, the clues point to some revenge-minded cartel the team busted in the past. As the bodies pile up, though, the remaining members start wondering if the killer is one of their own.
"Sabotage" lands right in the wheelhouse of director David Ayer, whose resume is almost exclusively filled with similar, mostly solid gritty procedural pulp cop dramas like "Training Day," "Street Kings" (I said mostly solid) and "End of Watch." Nobody would accuse Ayer of venturing too far out from his niche here, but he does have a flair for the genre. His action and visual approach has a slick grungy verve, and as with the rest of his work, there’s also a certain amount of researched authenticity to the minutia of the job.
Unfortunately, he’s saddled with Skip Woods – the hack scribe behind shiny dreck like "Swordfish," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and the breathlessly stupid "Hitman" – as a co-writer. Worst yet, the script seems to bear Woods's mark – one that turned the beloved John McClane into a nagging, destructive sidekick in "A Good Day to Die Hard" – more than Ayer’s.
All of his signature elements are there, including witlessly crude and annoyingly unnecessary quipping – perfect for viewers who wanted more of McClane yelling "I’m on vacation" in "A Good Day to Die Hard," only more profane. For a "covert, undercover" team, they sure do obnoxiously blab a lot mid-mission about farts and other savory topics. They also seem to have learned their nuanced covert tactics from Arnold’s "Commando."
Ayer and his overqualified cast try to summon some chemistry out of the script’s blather. Williams and fellow detective Harold Perrineau fare the best. It’s difficult, however, when the dialogue is childishly vulgar, and there are no real characters to care about. It’s almost a guarantee, for instance, that you will forget Terrence Howard is in the film.
Meanwhile, Woods throws together a slapdash mess of plotlines – the missing money, the murder mystery, reassembling the team, plus a subplot about Breacher’s haunted memories of his wife and child, brutally tortured and killed by a Mexican cartel – that never coheres into a compelling story. The mystery winds up mystery-free, and when "Sabotage" finally gets around to trying to wrap it all together, it seems the killer’s final victim is the audience’s ability to buy this ridiculous nonsense.
Even before it reaches its final set of ludicrous twists – one requiring a character to pull a Batman-like disappearing act in broad daylight, surrounded by cops – "Sabotage" becomes too idiotic to be taken as anything approaching serious, while also too overwhelmingly grim and ugly to be entertaining or any fun. The misfire’s only real worth is as an oddly admirable anomaly for its aged star, though even hard-core Ahnold fans might be better off admiring it from a distance.
1 comment about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 24, 2015
At first glance, Ellington Ratliff may seem like the odd man in the pop rock band R5. He's the only one who's not a member of the Lynch family. He's the only one with a first name that doesn't begin with R (Riker, Rocky, Ross and Rydel make up the rest), and he's the only bandmate not born and raised in Colorado. Instead, Ratliff was born out in Los Angeles and split time in Wisconsin, making the band's Riverside gig Friday night a return of sorts.
Published July 23, 2015
If the last two days have proven anything, it's that Milwaukee will freaking lose their mind over the mere idea of a lion. At least, local movie fans Stephen Milek and Christopher Kai House certainly hope that is the case, as the two film buffs attempt to bring the notoriously insane 1981 thriller/borderline snuff film "Roar" to town.
Published July 22, 2015
Bookended by AJ Bombers and Water Street Brewery, Water Street is famous for three Bs: bars, burgers and bros. The tightly packed combination of those things has made the area a popular nighttime hot spot. Yet amongst all of the bars and clubs is something unexpected: A. Werner Silversmith, a buried treasure - quite literally considering its glass cases and shelves containing shimmering, beautifully repaired silver pieces - hiding in plain sight.
Published July 20, 2015
Brooklyn-based indie band Lazyeyes guitarist and singer Jason Abrishami has never been to Milwaukee - let alone any part of the Midwest really. He admits he hasn't even heard that much about the Cream City, but he'll learn about the city firsthand Wednesday night when the band and its shoegaze-laced dream rock makes its maiden trip to the city via a gig at The Mad Planet.
Published July 19, 2015
Tarsem Singh is a man who spent about four years and much of his own money traveling the globe's most outrageously beautiful locales in order to make his magnum opus "The Fall." So how'd he end up standing behind the camera of "Self/Less," an utterly anonymous and impact-free immortality action-thriller that - much like the fresh if not quite new bodies being peddled in the film - seems "alive only in the most basic sense"?
Published July 18, 2015
What if? It's two simple words, not even adding up 10 letters, but that seemingly innocent question has likely haunted every single person that's walked this planet at some point or another. And it's a question that fascinates Milwaukee native Cynthia Swanson, so much so that she made that idea the cornerstone for her debut novel, "The Bookseller."
Published July 17, 2015
Every band has at least a small group of devoted fans cheering it on and supporting it on its way to the spotlight. The retro "nu-wop" family band The Bronx Wanderers, coming to Festa Italiana this weekend, is no different - except some of those devoted fans just happen to be entertainment icons from their hometown neighborhood, including Dion DiMucci, Tony Orlando and Oscar-nominated actors Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello.
Published July 15, 2015
When Festa Italiana starts up this Friday at Henry Maier Festival Park, many will flock down to the lakefront to gulp down some real authentic Italian food and wine. Yet some of the most revered tastes of Italian culture coming to town this weekend are wholly inedible: the lovingly crafted and almost identical replicas of the country's most famous sites - this year including a 50-foot duplicate of the iconic Trevi Fountain.
Published July 12, 2015
Whenever some pop cultural hallmark gets a shiny new Hollywood remake or reboot, the Internet's response is always the same, to the point that you might as well give it its own key on the keyboard: "They're destroying my childhood!" In all cases, it's complete hyperbolic fanboy spazzing - all, except for maybe the case of "Terminator: Genisys" (the silly bonus y nicely echoing my main line of thought while watching the movie).
Published July 11, 2015
Channing Tatum must've heard your laments concerning the first "Magic Mike" film and brought most of the gang back together for "Magic Mike XXL," the best possible version of the sexy, silly male stripper movie audiences thought they were getting the first time though.