There is a moment in David Ayers’ moving police drama End of Watch when the two affable and dedicated LAPD officers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña discover a pile of dismembered bodies in a house. It is an uncharacteristically gruesome moment in a movie filled with rich characterization — and it was jarring to say the least.
I am particularly saddened to report then that with Ayers’ newest film Sabotage, it seems that the writer/director has given in completely to what can now only be described as a fetish for shocking gore. Let’s be clear: I’m all for a good amount of gore when it’s appropriate — last year’s Evil Dead remake for example was a joyfully gory thrill ride — but Sabotage is a repellent action movie with absolutely no point, and may be the most miserable time I’ve had in a movie theater in years.
The film opens with promise. Arnold Schwarzenegger leads a gung-ho team of DEA agents (including Sam Worthington, Terrance Howard and Mireille Enos) who infiltrate a drug cartel and raid a safe house. The shoot-out that ensues is violent for sure, but it’s shot and edited with energy, and ends with one agent dead and the rest of the team hiding $2 million of the drug money they discover for themselves. But when they go back for it, it’s gone.
Sabotage is all downhill from there. There’s a ton of forced macho camaraderie among the team and a series of grisly murders that even Hannibal Lecter would find classless. Had there been any real development in any of the characters, perhaps it would have softened the blow of one of the most idiotic scripts in recent memory. Rewritten by Ayers from a screenplay by Skip Woods (A Good Day to Die Hard), Sabotage is nothing more than a revenge movie, and it’s a poor one at that, with a complete lack of compelling motivation and a contrived, roundabout scheme that rings hollow.
It’s up to the actors to breathe lives into their “characters” because there’s virtually nothing to distinguish any of them on the page. Josh Holloway is one of at least three team members who seem identical and just fade into the background, and as the only female of the group, Enos tries to make an impression, but in this all-dude tough-guy-athon, it’s a tough sell. Even investigator Olivia Williams, struggling to push down her British accent with a vaguely Southern drawl, can’t just be a powerful woman — she has to break down and sleep with one of these super manly men.
My father once said to me that he couldn’t watch The Sopranos because he didn’t like any of the characters on the show. I told him that this was one of the things that made the show so fascinating. Besides getting a peek inside a world you’ll never see, The Sopranos goes deep into the hopes and fears of all its richly drawn characters. Who cares if they’re all a bunch of sexist murderers? Finding out what makes them tick and reveling in the absurdity of their lives was what made that show — with unlikable characters — so compelling.
This film has all of the sexist murderers and none of the compelling. The “mystery” at its core ends up being solved with a shrug, because the reveal is so unlikely and unsatisfying. Of course, there’s another gruesome death scene, and the film drags on for —wait for it — another gratuitous shootout where scores of Mexican drug dealers and hookers are killed with impunity.
Sabotage is a cynical piece of trash that thinks it’s smarter than it is. It’s what happens when filmmakers mistake “violent” and “unlikable” as keywords for gritty adult entertainment. None of those traits matter if your movie is just plain stupid.