After robbing $10 million from a drug cartel, an undercover DEA squad led by John Breacher Wharton (Schwarzenegger) is taken out, one by one, by a mysterious killer.
David Ayer, the dirty-cop specialist behind Training Day and Dark Blue, has made another dirty cop movie. And, in a sense, it’s just as experimental as his last procedural, End Of Watch. Here, Ayer takes his beloved subgenre and, for want of a technical term, Arnie-fies it. Along with corruption, interrogations and betrayal, Sabotage comes embellished with growling action, steaming gore and guns the size of dogs. It’s a bit of a mongrel.
As befitting a vintage action star, Schwarzenegger’s Breacher is the vater figure to a dysfunctional family of undercover agents, each with their own exotically grungy wrestler names: Grinder, Monster, Pyro, Tripod, Smoke, Neck and, our favourite, Lizzy. If Metallica had a private SWAT team, this is how they’d roll. On the murky border between serving the law and hedonistic self-interest, the ensemble are introduced pulling a bombastic but devious heist on a cartel safe house. When their stolen millions go missing, Breacher’s team are bumped off by a covert psycho with an overkill fetish: crushed by freight train, nailed to a ceiling... Eventually, the gang suspect an inside job. Or, as Terrence Howard’s Sugar puts it: “Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are getting dead.” Sugar: the poet of the gang there.
In his younger days, Arnie would’ve zingered his way through this; here these urges are resisted. While we can’t quite see a Sabotage 2 happening, there’s a future for the new, older Ahnold: the part of a grizzled, wily antihero, physically imposing, morally shady and mentally shattered, is an instantly convincing fit. Almost like meeting Predator’s Dutch 30 years down the line, defences battered by too many fights and a few divorces.
Olivia Williams makes a spiky impression as a tenacious cop but honestly? Burping out alpha dialogue, Breacher’s lot are such tremendously unlikable hairy toolkits, the deaths can’t come fast enough. It is, to say the least, a film lacking in jeopardy. You can see what Ayer’s trying to pull off: paying homage to the Austrian Oak’s action past in a jittery, modern dynamic, but they just don’t paste. It certainly goes some way to explaining why Sabotage has two endings: one that wraps up the plot, and another that seems to serve no other purpose than to watch Schwarzenegger shoot up a bar full of bads. It appears like a bonus level, gratuitous beyond belief.
A bloody, scuzzy, progressively preposterous whodunnit, blending old school and new wave to neutering effect. One chunky plus: the all-new Antihero Arnie.