Sabotage is a relentless onslaught of excessive violence, juvenile humor and unlikable characters. Enter at your own risk. Proceed with caution. Better yet, skip it.
R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
There are two ways to take a movie like Sabotage. One is to view it as a vicarious look into a savage lifestyle of greed and violence. The audience goes home to friends, family, pets and life’s other comforts having satisfied the most base and carnal elements of human existence in the safe movie theatre environment. The other is to call it nothing more than sadistic revenge porn with absolutely no redeeming value. The audience is exposed to drugs, violence and other offenses during a nearly two-hour incursion on the sensibilities and left none the better, if not worse off, for having endured the ordeal.
This review takes Sabotage as nothing more than revenge without redemption. There is absolutely nothing rewarding about surviving Sabotage. The saddest crime committed here, artistically speaking, is the topsy-turvy storyline that could have so easily been converted into something of substance and meaning.
At one point, the realization hits that Schwarzenegger has struck a new low in his lengthy movie career. That’s the cumulative effect of the violence, the characters (including this movie’s idea of the “good guys”) and the story sinking into merciless depravity. That point sits somewhere in the first act. The story becomes a little more engaging in the second act as two interrelated mysteries take shape, but the story careens wildly off the rails in the third act.
Pain & Gain
Last year Michael Bay unleashed Pain & Gain, a similar exploration (or more appropriately, exploitation) of bad taste that had its basis in a true story about some real morons. Here the completely fictional story revolves around the violence of drug cartels and the counter measures of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and, in the process, makes every cast member look like a moron.
Something of value could be made in exploring that dark underbelly of the drug world that has killed so many. The violence is real and one need look no further than the border towns of the US and Mexico as they’re ravaged by senseless gun violence in drug and turf wars.
But Sabotage fixates on the violence as merely a behavior in itself; some people conduct conversations, here people kill and kill and kill.
The opening frames are of a snuff video. A woman is being tortured; as the movie begins, it’s not clear who this woman is or who is assaulting her. At the risk of being something of a spoiler, it is later revealed she is the wife of John Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator). John was a happy, loving family man in the DEA before his wife and son were both tortured and killed by one particularly vengeful cartel.
As the movie progresses, John is seen watching the video of his wife dying over and over and over again. There’s a brief moment when John seems sympathetic, particularly with the revelation their body parts were delivered to him during the course of several weeks. Instead of being a sympathetic hero on a mission, however, he becomes a monster as he seeks to defeat a monster.
As the ever-dedicated journalist open to new ideas and new ways of expression, this writer tried to approach Sabotage from a number of angles as the visuals and story lurched across the screen. The damage done to innocent brain cells as a result of that exercise in this case is regrettable.
Is this a modern horror movie, the new millennium’s version of Friday the 13th or Halloween? The grisly violence (at one point a DEA agent is nailed to the ceiling in his home) leans that way. Maybe this is a new genre in its nascent stage as street violence turns to street horror (to that end, the violence includes another DEA agent being trapped in his mobile home, which has in turn been been placed on train tracks as the setup for another brutal murder; elsewhere, a freakishly silly car chase leads to a car decapitation and more blood).
This mayhem all revolves around those two mysteries: Who stole $10 million from DEA agents who were in turn stealing the money from drug lords during a raid (read that again if you have to) and also who the heck is killing those same DEA agents subsequent to that raid?
The dovetailing, or perhaps it’s more like careening, of those two mysteries offers a brief — exasperatingly brief — moment of intrigue as the thought momentarily floats out there that maybe, just maybe, the movie has something clever up its sleeve.
Sabotage turns into a kitchen sink movie and by the end of it all there’s a completely unnecessary and ridiculous plot twist involving a romantic entanglement within the ranks of this crack undercover Atlanta-based DEA team, a separate affair that plays phenomenally poorly, a possible birth of yet another genre in the vibe of a “Spaghetti Urban” revenge tale, a fleetingly brief moment of art house symbolism whilst Schwarzenegger sits in front of a poster with bold-faced lettering of “Sin Sin Sin,” and, yes, a kitchen sink that is put to use as a urinal.
What attracted this fairly notable cast that, in addition to Schwarzenegger, includes Olivia Williams (An Education), Sam Worthington (Avatar) and Terrence Howard (Iron Man)? Did they think they were participating in something edgy?
Perhaps the sole bit of innovation in this tasteless dreck is the collection of colorful ways with which the blood flows, spurts and oozes across the screen.