From TRAINING DAY (2001), DARK BLUE (2002), HARSH TIMES (2005), STREET KINGS (2008) and END OF WATCH (2012) at which he either writes, directs or doing both duties, David Ayer has crafted quite a career for himself as the go-to guy when comes to movie that explores the dark side of a law enforcement. This year is no different as Ayer explores the same territory again with SABOTAGE. But what's really interesting about his latest effort is his first-time collaboration with the former '80s and '90s king of big action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the kind of role unlike anything fans have seen him before... well, at least not since 1984's THE TERMINATOR or to certain extent, 1997's BATMAN AND ROBIN.
WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?
Following a successful drug raid to steal US$10 million from the cartel's money, John "Breacher" Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his rugged team of undercover DEA task force -- James "Monster" Murray (Sam Worthington) and wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe "Grinder" Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius "Sugar" Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie "Neck" Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom "Pyro" Roberts (Max Martini), and Bryce "Tripod" McNeely (Kevin Vance) -- are happy to collect it later where they hide it in the sewer pipes. However, they return to discover that the drug money has gone missing. They are eventually held for investigation and everyone ends up suspended from duty. But after the authorities fail to land hard evidence against them, their superior (Martin Donovan) put them back into action. Then, one by one from Breacher's team members ends up dead in gory fashion. While trying to find out the culprit, Breacher is subsequently working with homicide investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and realizes that the murders as well as the stolen drug money is actually involving one of them.
THE GOOD STUFF
As with other Ayer's movies, the action is brutal and gripping enough to capture your attention. Together with cinematographer Bruce McCleery, Ayer also manages to create some creative shots including the one where he utilizes small digital cameras from the tip of a gun barrel's point-of-view during a shootout.
The overall cast here is engaging, with Schwarzenegger gives a daring performance as the cigar-chomping John "Breacher" Wharton with a dark past. It's certainly nice to see him willing enough to change his usual larger-than-life action image for something radically different. As the emotionally-confused and relentless Caroline Brentwood, Olivia Williams plays her role with enough gravitas to stand out on her own. The rest of the supporting actors, including Sam Worthington (sporting a shaved head and braided goatee) and Joe Manganiello (looking good with a cornrow hairstyle), are equally adequate with their respective roles but it was Mireille Enos who steals the show in SABOTAGE. Here, Enos brings an uncompromisingly fearless performance as the tortured Lizzy who is addicted to drugs.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)
For all the blood, sex and profanities that showcased throughout the movie, I can't singled out a moment worth placing here.
THE BAD STUFF
It's a pity that the story here is major disappointment. Written by David Ayer and Skip Woods, SABOTAGE does look promising with a nifty concept that mixes Ayer's trademark gritty cop thriller with Agatha Christie-like whodunit structure (particularly her famous novel of And Then There Were None). However, the execution is rather poor or should I say, lazily constructed, as the whodunit doesn't look interesting at all. And worst, the story drags a lot throughout the movie.
As exceptionally good as Schwarzenegger has put into his character, there's a nagging feeling that he looks wooden when he is required to deliver more stilted dialogues than usual. As the soft-spoken Sugar, Terrence Howard does little to make his performance worthwhile in the movie.
As much as Ayer loves to showcase a lot of grits in his movie, his penchant for shaky camera-work feels rather annoying, particularly when he loves to do a lot of tight close-ups. Another flaw here is Ayer's over-the-top display of gore and violence that somehow works better for a hardcore horror movie than a gritty cop thriller.
While SABOTAGE is far from both Ayer's and Schwarzenegger's best efforts, the movie remains quite a jolting cinematic experience.