Movies, Reviews, scraping the barrel

Scraping the barrel – Sabotage

I saw some terrible movies in 2014 but few were as hypnotically fascinating as Sabotage a film in which the wobbling wheels of Arnhold’s faltering post Governator career flew off so violently that I suspected they had been attached with defective explosive bolts. Connoisseurs of shitty movies should be excitedly camping outside Poundland outlets across the UK in anticipation of this film’s arrival following the briefest of periods at £25.99 in HMV (I predict in time for Christmas).

The finely seasoned Austrian Oak plays Jack ‘Breacher’ Wharton in Sabotage, a man we first encounter in a pre-credits sequence watching a stomach churning snuff movie in which a woman is being graphically brutalised. It’s genuinely quite a disgusting scene tastelessly evoking the kind of real world horrors dumped on YouTube by terrorist organisations. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view and general level of humanity) the scene is rendered unintentionally hilarious by Schwarzenegger’s atrocious non-acting, he looks like a mountain weeping in slow motion. There are some people who have claimed this film presents Arnold’s career best performance. If you seriously think that you should be sectioned! Clearly he’s trying to do a John Wayne / Clint Eastwood style character, but he ends up making Stephen Segal look like Olivier.

Anyway, cue a ‘yadda yadda months later’ caption and the movie’s bewildering excuse for a narrative begins by dumping the viewer into the middle of an action scene. Breacher is leading a DEA assault team in an infiltration of a drug baron’s mansion. The grizzled warriors do have actual names according the IMDB but no one ever uses them, instead the have the kind of call-signs favoured by wrestlers or 12 year old Call of Duty fans: Pyro; Neck (Neck?); Grinder; Sugar; and um Tripod. There is also a trash talking token female named ‘Lizzy’ played with wild eyed ferocity by Mireille Enos and charmingly introduced playing an undercover trollop.

These law enforcement agents work hard, party harder, and surprisingly are probably more likely to be familiar with the British sitcom Miranda, than with the rights of the same name enshrined in US law since 1966. Kicking in doors and shooting people in the head is what they do. Oh, and they steal a fuck-tonne of drug money which is what drives the plot (in the most nonsensical way imaginable). They are all completely vile, and I started wanting to see them die after about three minutes.

Thankfully, the film was happy to grant my wish. Soon members of Breacher’s team start turning up excessively and gorily dead. The question is who is killing them, a traitor or the cartels? (Actually for the next 90 minutes the questions you will be asking yourself are: why didn’t they just take more money? And since the remainder was then gratuitously blown up, how does the cartel know they stole it in the first place?).

After a period of being glared at by the boss and shouted at by investigators over the missing money (again, as it was blown up… HOW DO THEY KNOW?) Breacher gets his team together to violate some more fifth and sixth amendment rights with crazy abandon.

Up to this point the film has appeared to bear some relation to the gritty, realistic thrillers for which director David Ayer is known (as writer his name graces the likes of Training Day and Dark Blue, as director he recently made the decent enough End of Watch), but the inherent meat-headed ludicrousness of the premise constantly undercuts attempts at gravitas. It must be noted that the film has a co-writer credit for Skip Woods who has probably the worst CV of any screenwriter in Hollyweird (his ‘hits’ include Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and A Good Day to Die Hard).

Ayer splatters gore everywhere and turns the air blue with faux-edgy dialogue (take a drink every time Mireille’s character points at a stripper and says ‘I’d hit that if I were you’). Lumbered with a leading man with the acting range of a Smeg fridge-freezer none of it takes.

Things look up a little when one of the team being turned into steak tartar by a freight train and the Feds become involved in investigating his murder. The lead investigator is a hard boiled southern fried gal played (in the most improbable piece of casting since Kristen Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives) by Olivia motherfucking Williams! It is as though the studio saw the early rushes, freaked out over how bad things were going and decided to air drop in an accent more ludicrous than Arnie’s to divert attention.

This appears to be a film that has spiralled out of control during production then been released by Lionsgate in a completely half-arsed state in a suicidal act of self-disgust. Whole scenes seem to be missing rendering the plot barely comprehensible. For example Oscar nominated actor Terrence Howard plays one of the DEA team and he has a significant part to play in the events of the third act, but he has about three lines in the movie and is off-screen for so long I forgot he was in it!

The gritty realism act is eventually dropped for scenes of Arnie racing a truck through a downtown business district whiles Olivia Williams hangs out the window blasting away like they are in a John Woo film. Right at the end it throws another wobbly and turns into a typical Arnie revenge flick of the sort he made in the eighties. This is a film with a major identity crisis.

To make matters worse, Ayer’s action direction and editing are often appalling rendering major sequences incoherent. There is an extensive shoot out in some woods about mid-way through the film. Firstly this features a character from Breacher’s team who has been completely absent since the opening heist-cum-assault, so his sudden reappearance leads to some head scratching. By the way, I’m not referring to Terrence Howard’s character, but another one of the team who is even less present until required to be a plot device. As bullets fly Ayers adopts a parallel editing strategy that simply doesn’t work. Later in the film he tries the same trick again, and it still doesn’t work. I sorta think he didn’t get the coverage.

The cast is peppered with actors collecting a pay check, but for all their muscles and macho bullshit, the male actors barely register. Everyone’s favourite brand of flavourless Australian gum Sam Worthington does such a convincing impersonation of Fred Durst, I thought he was Fred Durst until an astonishing moment were he clearly fluffs a line and starts swearing in his native Oz accent. Seriously, they left this in the film! The girls do better. Williams gleefully takes revenge for Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins with her popcorn chicken fried accent and Enos chews up the scenery like a wood chipper on overdrive.

A note about Ayers and his much heralded ‘realism’, Enos’ character has a meth addiction and although a disapproving Breacher does request she lay off it, there is a brilliant later scene where the team discover a drugs lab and she guzzles drugs and laughs manically in front of her boss who acts like this is perfectly normal behaviour.

It’s absolute rubbish, and rubbish with a really nasty edge. How this scraped a 15 certificate is frankly beyond me. If you are a normal person AVOID THIS LIKE THE PLAGUE, however if like me you have a fascination for seeing how out of control and stupid a film can get there is a strange mesmeric quality to this movie that means I had quite a good time watching it.

But it’s rubbish.

This review originally appeared on http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/

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