*. Can we feel sorry for Arnold Schwarzenegger? His post-gubernatorial film career hasn’t been much to write about. After cameos in The Expendables and The Expendables 2 he headlined The Last Stand, Escape Plan, and Sabotage. Were these movies that anyone wanted to see?
*. The thing is, none of the big ’80s action stars could act. They were just a screen presence, and in the twenty-first century their appearances became a male version of the Grande Dame Guignol of hagsploitation. We are relieved when Stallone and Schwarzenegger keep their shirts on now, though I was impressed at the weights we see Arnie lifting in the gym scene here.
*. Kyle Smith got in a good crack about Arnold having “reached the shaky-cam-and-hoodies stage of his career” in Sabotage, but what registers is the disjunction between the hoodie and the face, which now looks like a piece of beef jerky peering out from a cave. It is, if I can say it without seeming cruel, a bit grotesque.
*. Nobody seemed to like Sabotage very much. There were a lot of complaints about how brutal the violence was, but it didn’t strike me as being more extreme than usual for this genre, at this time. Meaning there are lots of splatters of CGI blood.
*. But maybe people were troubled by the bleakness of the plot, which has Arnie playing John “Breacher” Wharton, “a drug-war god” who heads a team of DEA toughs. They seem to be a tactical squad, but are also described as undercover agents. I thought these were two different things, but what do I know? I also thought they talked way too much when clearing a house, but again I’m not an expert on these matters. I assume director David Ayer, whose métier this is, knows better.
*. The plot has the team stealing $10 million in cash during a raid on a drug lord’s McMansion, but then having this prize stolen in turn out from under their nose. Later, the team begins to get killed off one by one. Is this the revenge of the cartel? Or an enemy within?
*. That might have made for a decent mystery plot but it goes nowhere here. I take it that somewhere in the publicity material the story was likened to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None because the connection is made in a lot of the reviews. Don’t be fooled by this. There is no connection whatsoever.
*. Instead of Christie I was sort of hoping a serial killer was stalking the team, making this into an action-horror crossover. Or maybe the Predator was back. He took out a cartel at the beginning of Predator 2. Alas, no such luck. What’s really going on is a lot less interesting.
*. Don’t be thinking the title is going to give you any clues. The original titles were Ten and Breacher. But the first was taken and the second would have probably confused everyone. So instead they went with Sabotage. There is no sabotage in the movie. They were hoping to be able to use the song of the same name by the Beastie Boys in the marketing, but in the event permission was denied.
*. Apparently the studio also cut the movie quite heavily. Rumour has it the original cut was close to three hours. I don’t think the longer version was likely to be any better.
*. There were also changes made to the ending. Various endings were shot, most of them darker (but not sounding any better) than what we got. Instead we get a dull coda that offers partial closure on a subplot involving Breacher’s mission of revenge on the cartel that, you know, killed his wife and child. Apparently this has been eating away at him like, you know, “a cancer in his soul.”
*. Once again Mexico is a hell of corruption, lawlessness, crime, and violence. Stallone would venture into these same dirty streets just a few years later in Rambo: Last Blood. Another ill-considered retirement project. Guess it’s time to build that wall, America. If you really think it will do any good.
*. The team itself are introduced as a bunch of the usual yo-bros who drink a lot, go to strip clubs, get tattoos, but have each other’s back in a firefight. Or at least some of them do. I couldn’t stand any of them. Are we supposed to root for these goons? They’re even less likeable than the meatheads in Den of Thieves. A movie that at least established that roles like this can be safely handed over to Gerard Butler now.
*. So no, I don’t feel sorry for Arnold. If you want to extend sympathy to anyone for this grotty mess, extend it to Mireille Enos and Olivia Williams, with the former in particular really giving her all in a lost cause. There’s no way she could save this movie on her own, but damn she has her game face on.