By Roger Moore
Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t strut through action films these days. And no amount of editing can hide that, no, grandpa can’t kick doors down anymore. Or fake it.
Even his line-readings have a fatigue that suggests he’s kind of over it.
“Aye trust you mitt my life! Ve are still a family!”
A once-bulky big boy of Hollywood’s steroid era, these days he just lumbers into scenes, chomping a cigar, and tries to let the younger, bigger actors carry the load.
Especially in Sabotage, a stupidly titled actioner that, like its star, lumbers along between shoot-outs, gory crime scenes and glib, off-color one-liners. This dark turn in the Arnie oeuvre is by the guy who did Training Day and End of Watch. But watching this head-slappingly stupid movie is an exercise in seeing director David Ayer sucked into the drain that Arnold’s been spiraling down ever since his “comeback.”
Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of a DEA Special Operations Team, a gonzo gang of buff thugs with big guns and cute nicknames that they trot out in every slow-footed operation they mount.
When we meet Breacher, “Monster” (Sam Worthington) and his macho wife, Lizzy (Mireille Enos), “Sugar” (Terrence Howard) and “Grinder” (Joe Manganiello), along with “Tripod,” “Neck,” “Pyro” and “Smoke,” they’re shooting their way into an Atlanta mansion run by a drug lord. And they’re robbing him.
They stash the cash, but it disappears. Their bosses know there’s missing money. A long investigation (lots of grainy interrogation video) later, nobody’s charged. They get off with a scolding: “The only thing anybody in law enforcement has is their credibility.”
That’ll teach’em. But then, the members of the team start meeting gruesome, spectacular deaths — by train, by nail gun. The movie spares us nothing, from the crime scenes to the grisly autopsies.
An Atlanta cop, played by British actress Olivia Williams (An Education) slinging a Georgia accent, may be out of her depth. But she persists in trying to get the surviving members to tell her who is doing this, and why.
Ayer plays around with timelines, having the cop and the not-exactly-disgraced Breacher enter crime scenes that flash back to the actual events of the murder. Ayer throws a loopy chase through downtown Atlanta into the mix.
And he and co-writer Skip Woods pour an enormous effort into the Budweiser-bullets-and-strip-bars milieu that this “team” wallows in. Enos, of TV’s The Killing, acquits herself as a tough broad among tough guys.
Manganiello, all tattoos and corn rows, stands out as well. Worthington has elaborate biker facial hair and an accent (he’s Australian) that comes and goes. Avatar II may not rescue his career after all.
It’s more a botched Ayer movie than a retro Arnie adventure, but there are elements of both dragging this down. Extreme, graphic violence and a serious anti-law enforcement ethos combine with flippant gunslingers executing bad guys and dropping the occasional bystander, giving more thought to their “zingers” than the body count.
Sabotage makes you wonder — with nothing but flop star vehicles made for smaller and smaller studios since he turned 65 — when this worn-out Austrian war horse will be put out to pasture.