Sabotage was directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury), written by Skip Woods (Swordfish, A Good Day to Die Hard) and Ayer and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (Eraser, Escape Plan), Olivia Williams (Last Days on Mars, The Ghost Writer), Sam Worthington (Drift, Terminator Salvation), Mireille Enos (Hanna, Dark Was the Night), Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, Rampage), Terrence Howard (Crash, The Butler), Josh Holloway (Lost, Yellowstone), Max Martini (The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre, Pacific Rim) and Kevin Vance (Bright, Suicide Squad). It follows a team of DEA agents as they come undone following a raid that resulted in $10 million going missing.
The Plot: Ayer and Woods drum up something interesting with their concept of an urban whodunnit surrounding a lot of cartel money and dead cops. The pair are at least able to wring some suspense out of the idea but get wrapped up in odd distributions of screen time and substituting violence for thrills.
During a raid of a Mexican cartel compound, Breacher (Schwarzenegger) and his team of Monster (Worthington), Lizzy (Enos), Sugar (Howard), Grinder (Manganiello), Pyro (Martini), Neck (Holloway) and Tripod (Vance) attempt to steal $10 million only to find that it’s gone missing. Knowing something’s amiss, their superiors hold the team and question them to no avail, now deciding that the investigation isn’t worth their time, Breacher gets his team back. While this decision is necessary to make the movie, it’s a hard one to take without question, a running theme in Sabotage.
Once Pyro bites it and his death looks cartel-related, the team spiral downward with detective Brentwood (Williams) watching and waiting. There’s some doubt sown in the first act that serves the story well, but the movie comes undone faster than the team, with its focus shifting back and forth between more and more absurd deaths of the team members and the alliance formed between Breacher and Brentwood. Sabotage takes its sweet time to get moving and its investigation is moderately interesting that has one of Ayer’s best tendencies: not connecting all the dots he (and Woods) created.
There’s a better movie waiting to be made with this exact plot. Sabotage’s own story is acceptable but gets lost within itself and takes too long to ever reach a decent ending
The Characters: As was the case for the story, Sabotage has starting points for some solid characters but doesn’t manage to deliver much aside from hyperactive and gratingly stereotypical depictions of off-kilter cops with an exception for the lead.
Breacher has a brutal backstory involving his wife and son that makes the deaths of his team members murkier when learned, but even before that, it’s clear that he’s the boss. He’s fast and strong (he’s played by Arnold so you knew that) but clearly holding something back despite his efforts to keep his name clean. The fact that he’s one of two willing to work with Brentwood makes him harder to read, which is unexpected given his attitude. Brentwood is more generic as an audience surrogate, working (harder than any of the agents) to put pieces together. She doesn’t get any real backstory, but she squares off well against Breacher with her perfectionism and curiosity for this case.
Ayer and Woods make it clear that the rest of the team are corrupted by what they’ve seen and done, with Monster and Lizzy the most developed of them all. Monster has a major trust problem and never fully regained his confidence in the team following the raid and Pyro’s death; Lizzy suffers similarly but uses drugs to mask the problem and tries hard to fit in with her male counterparts. Everyone else is just overly masculine and underdeveloped soon-to-be victims not unlike the meat bags in a slasher.
With a slimmer cast and more doubt cast on each one, Sabotage could’ve succeeded with its characters alone, but never manages to dig deep enough into anyone but Breacher.
The Crime: Despite the movie being frontloaded with mystery regarding who’s got the money and who’s doing the killing, Sabotage leans into its crime-based surface level, providing some solid scenes of investigation and action.
Like most of Ayer’s movies, he shows off how “the job bites back” and the characters are affected in different ways but, like Street Kings, doesn’t deliver the procedural element necessary to immerse the audience into the world, instead, focusing on the brutality of said world while never making his message about it clear.
When not staging an elaborate action scene or gory autopsy, the movie has some creative scenes between Breacher and Brentwood that display the bouncing of superiority between two agencies as they work with each other to narrow down the basics of the case and play each other for more direct intel on who killed who and who’s next in line.
During the rare moments when neither of those two is at the center of the screen, Sabotage collapses from not having shaded anyone else in, so the who and the why don’t matter that much in the end as aside from the easy to pick up on the fact that all the agents are damaged, and the fact that a cartel is involved.
With some clever misdirection in play and at least one good character to ruminate on, Sabotage’s crime is engaging at a surface level but without a strong point to one side or another and the gradual realization that none of the killings matter in the end, the movie’s crime element is a near miss.
The Technics: From the beginning, the movie struggles with tone and (presumably) improvisation. There are literal toilet jokes right before one of the agents gets domed five minutes in and nothing ever improves from there. That, paired with some tragic overacting from Enos, Manganiello, and occasionally Worthington, throws a wrench in what’s kind of trying to be a serious crime mystery.
What the movie does have on its side is editing from Dody Dorn (Insomnia, Matchstick Men) that elevates the crime scenes a notch higher than everything else. Camerawork from Bruce McCleery (Super 8, The Tomorrow War), in traditional spectator-like fashion for an Ayer movie, also assists in delivering some of the better moments in the runtime. Sabotage has a scattershot script but its construction is no slouch.
Sabotage offers the usual Ayer options: corruption, grime, and a cynical look at law enforcement along with some good ideas for a movie and two solid performances from Schwarzenegger and Williams. The plot doesn’t come together like it should and neither do the tone or crime. So much went wrong but so much went right.
Sabotage is available on DVD, Blu-ray and various streaming platforms. Its Facebook page is still up if you’re feeling nostalgic.