In both the best and worst sense of the word, Sabotage might be the most Cro-Magnon movie ever released.
The films stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Breacher, the head of a DEA task force. His fellow grunts have names like Monster, Grinder, Neck and Pyro. It's a miracle that these characters have names, at all. They seem to communicate through grunts, groans and barely-coherent fart jokes. It feels like a gag that the film begins with the grinding growls of men strapping on weapons, only to cut to the pretty Mirielle Enos at a party, turning to another man, playfully grrring like some sort of pack wolf.
This is a cartel party, however, and Enos is Lizzy, perhaps the most feral member of Breacher's gang. The group attacks the compound and subdues (well, murders) the inhabitants, seizing huge chunks of a massive drug money cache. Director David Ayer, a veteran screenwriter-turned director, has by now specialized in crude, shaky-cam action, but he's sharpened his craft long enough to allow for a spellbinding shot of an agent firing a rocket down a hallway into a pile of money that explodes, cascading flaming dollars onto the ground. It's as if Ayer is displaying the confidence felt from finally getting a major budget and a big star.
Ultimately, the mission is a bust: $10 million was removed from the scene, and the crew has no idea where the misplaced booty has gone. As an investigation buckles down on them, though, you feel the insincerity of procedure bearing down on the film. We know full well that this crew is going to have to get guns back in their hands to find the dough. But Ayer and co-writer Skip Woods have other things in mind.
First, Breacher and his crew are threatened by an obnoxious boss -- played by a smarmy Martin Donovan. Then they start getting picked off one by one through increasingly gruesome methods of dismemberment. Then, a saucy homicide cop (Olivia Williams) enters their ranks. Then it's revealed there's a revenge plot. Then the group has to deal with not only the cartel, not only a mole within their organization, but an entirely separate sect of killers hired by said cartel to eliminate them. Still with me?
It's amazing no one was rushing from work to catch their daughter's recital, or nobody had to chase a plane carrying their fiancee. There's a lot going on here.
Fortunately, there's the mountainous Schwarzenegger to bring a sense of gravity to a shaky jalopy. His Breacher is the first real performance he's given in a long time, and within his body language, there's the authority of a cagey veteran who sees the value-added that comes from stern, civil leadership. He can bro-down with the boys while nursing a beer (and in some cases a very Schwarzeneggerian cigar), but when he comes across their messy offices, his disappointment is downright paternal. Schwarzenegger's on the wrong side of 60, but while he used to act with his chest and biceps, now he performs with his shoulders and craggy face. His rock-like business-frown, now weathered with age, tells a hundred stories all on its own.
Sabotage is a hearty slice of red meat for the bulk of its runtime. Much of the flavor comes from Williams' homicide cop: a shit-talking Southerner (sometimes… like most of the cast, the British Williams has a tough time maintaining her accent) with a disdain for authority. Ultimately, Breacher’s team appreciates that she gives as good as she gets, even if she's severely uncomfortable with the aggression of the squad, and more at home cursing co-workers back at the office. For all her braggadocio, she's also a little bit of a dork: her dirty jokes are lost on an unnamed clerk who keeps reacting to her locker room talk with a, "Please I just work here" sort of coldness. And, wouldn't you know it: in the midst of all this, she's actually maybe even falling for Breacher. That big Austrian oak.
Late-career Schwarzenegger remains a bit of a mystery thus far. It's still unclear as to how committed he is to changing his image, to accepting the accelerated age on his body. And after five twists too many, Sabotage doesn't really know what to do with him either. The final 20 minutes are an incomprehensible mess of sloppy action sequences, preposterous plot developments, and, basically, Breacher's delayed ascension into omnipotent Schwarzeneggerism. The former Terminator becomes a mythic character, almost as if the film requires such a last minute shift to justify its entire existence. It ultimately feels like reshoot soup, disparate elements coming together in the neatest, and most preposterous of endings, designed to once again cement a legacy that needs no further fortification.
In a sea of destroyed corpses and (frankly) appalling brutality, Schwarzenegger remains committed to reminding the audience that he's still the man.