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 Aug. 31, 2015
The former Goldmann's Department Store is in the process of becoming the new home to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. As a part of the renovation process, however, its iconic sign was taken down. After spending some time for sale in the construction lot, the popular Milwaukee and Mitchell Street landmark has found a new home. But, not in Milwaukee.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Growing up, the Bay View-based toy maker Peggy Brown has plenty of memories of the classic board game Operation - and her family didn't even own it. Decades later, Brown - along with her friend and fellow toy maker Tim Walsh - are trying to give something back to the man whose legendarily buzz-worthy game gave them so many fun times and fond memories over the years with the documentary "Buzz Heard 'Round the World."
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Considering its reputation as Milwaukee's haunted bar, Shaker's Cigar Bar, located at 422 S. 2nd St., certainly knows a thing or two about old stories coming to life. After giving plenty of historical tours through the years and guiding eager guests to some of the city's ghosts, bar owner Bob Weiss and marketing director Amanda Morden are hoping they've found a new way to resurrect some of Milwaukee's old tales of yore: Hangman Radio.
Published Aug. 26, 2015
Now, with their Internet comedy series "Shangri-L.A.," Milwaukee-grown filmmakers Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer ("Billy Club," "Pester") are the latest to go in search of the worldly utopia. Well, kind of, as the search for dreams brings them to the very real city of Los Angeles - and to Kickstarter to help finish the 11 episode production.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
Yes, the Packers will probably be just fine without Jordy Nelson, who's done for the year with a significant right knee injury. But sometimes, you just need to grieve ... with a collection of Dubsmashes from Olivia Munn and Aaron Rodgers from before the injury that eerily fit this time of great sadness.
Published Aug. 23, 2015
If you're planning on riffing off of one of Hollywood's greatest director's greatest movies, you better know what you're doing. Luckily, the man behind "Phoenix" is the extremely talented German director Christian Petzold, who smartly takes a touch of Hitchcock and twists it into an impressive project all of his own, a brilliantly crafted modern post-war noir carefully cloaked in mystery that slowly but satisfyingly burns to a quiet fireworks display of a finale.
Published Aug. 22, 2015
The jazzy retro style of Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is slinky fun, but enjoy it while you can because, like a toddler, if you take your eyes off it for a second to grab your drink or glance at your watch or merely blink, it is gone, a whooshing little breeze where it once used to be on screen and in your mind. The projector might as well be one of those neuralizers from "Men in Black."
Published Aug. 19, 2015
Dieter Sturm may not be a household name, but for about 30 years, his work has been all over some of your favorite Hollywood movies. Yes, fitting for a Wisconsinite, Sturm's business is snow, and when a Hollywood production needs to call in anything from a flurry to a blizzard, Sturm and his Lake Geneva-based company Sturm Special Effects bring the storm.
Published Aug. 18, 2015
The first time Indianapolis native and "Big Lebowski" superfan Tom Esterline, Jr. saw the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic, well, he fell asleep. But then he watched it again. And again. And again and again and so on until he became a superfan - an Achiever - decked in his finest Pendleton sweater and attending as many Lebowski Fests as possible - the next one located right here in Milwaukee this weekend at Cathedral Square Park.
Published Aug. 18, 2015
The combination of bagpipes and didgeridoo is an almost impossibly rare mix - one that belongs almost exclusively to Brother. Unfortunately, the band's upcoming return to River Rhythms on Wednesday night will likely be the final one of its kind, as lead singer Angus Richardson recently announced that he was stepping away from the band. Before his likely final Milwaukee show, we chatted with Richardson and reflect on saying goodbye to Brother.