In the interest of full disclosure, I have never really seen any of Arnold Schwarzenegger's work since his he exited the Governor's office in California some time back. This also makes me one of the few people left that has never seen an Expendables movie so you can judge accordingly. But there was a certain level of intrigue for me that Sabotage brought to the table.
David Ayer (End of Watch) co-wrote the script with Skip Woods and directed as well. Arnold plays John Wharton, nicknamed ‘Breacher.' Breacher is the leader of a Special Operations team working in the Drug Enforcement Agency. The team is accused of robbing millions from the house of a drug lord and are suspended (and eventually reinstated) for it. Soon, members of the team are slowly killed off and it is up to Breacher to find out who is doing the dirty deed.
What is amazing is just how many familiar faces comprise Breacher's team. You have James ‘Monster' Murray (Sam Worthington, Clash of the Titans), second in command for the team. There is also Lizzy (Mireille Enos, The Killing), an occasional pill-popping bisexual who also is married to Monster. Joe ‘Grinder' Phillips (Joe Manganiello, The Killing) is a hulking yet quietly capable member of the team, while Eddie ‘Neck' Jordan (Josh Holloway, Battle of the Year) is the most outspoken. Rounding out the group is Julius ‘Sugar' Edmonds (Terrence Howard, Red Tails). Investigating the deaths of Breacher's team are Caroline (Olivia Williams, Hanna) and Jackson (Harold Perrineau, Sons of Anarchy), with the former running lead on things.
At first glance, to me Sabotage is a little like Predator in that both films include Arnold Schwarzenegger leading an ensemble of familiar faces in smaller roles in a story involving a mysterious murderer. That Arnold is doing this now and showing some of the wisdom and acknowledgment of his age and limitations is commendable. Like Arnold the cinematic icon, Breacher did a lot in his younger days and his role is to lead people with knowledge and the occasional deed. The first act of the film puts us into the middle of the group, who work hard and play same, and Breacher is the Dad who lets them do what they want while providing some care when it is needed. It works very well.
It is a shame, because it is hard to tell which is the bad part about Sabotage: the fact that the first act is when the film peaks and goes downhill from there, or that is slowly goes more and more downhill. It is topped with an ending that twists and turns in an attempt to be clever but is really just convoluted and convenient. The first act is very good, the second gives a little bit of pause, and then the third goes right down the cinematic crapper.
When it comes to Sabotage, another frustrating thing is that while there are many people here to support Arnold's performance, they all tend to share the same note. All of the team is crazy but it is a crazy that is self-aware that they blow off steam because of the situations that they are placed. But in this crazy the lesser moments do not possess much resonance or believability; the first half of the film shows Breacher playing father and Scout Master, but then the second half of the film has them start to develop various levels of conscience when it comes to being hunted. It is less than convincing to put it conservatively. On a side note, Williams' Georgia drawl may be one of the worst speech inflections in recent history. I'm holding a spot for it next to the Jeff Bridges Irish one in Blown Away and Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, it is that bad. When you get past that, she is not given a lot to do either. She is wasted in the role, which can be said of more than a couple of actors in Sabotage.
It is a bit of a shame, because I think Arnold Schwarzenegger has a sense of self-awareness that not a lot of people have in films. That buys him a sense of credibility and in Sabotage he uses this to some degree and it works nicely. The flaws in the story start to dwarf Schwarzenegger and he even takes part in them, and the film suffers for the balance of the time. Even a better ending for the film than what we see would have improved this good deal.
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and in Blu-ray using the AVC codec for high-definition, Sabotage looks excellent. Ayer tends to have a knack for putting a lot of background into his wider shots despite the smaller aspect ratio, and it looks convincing and multidimensional. Image detail is the foreground is just as convincing, whether it is the aging of Arnold, or in individual hairs and fibers of clothing. The film's color palette is reproduced faithfully and looks natural, be it Georgia exteriors in the car chase in the third act or in the darker moments when the team parties in a strip club.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track is also up to the task. Explosions from flash bang grenades and other explosive devices have a nice low-end punch to them. Gunfire does as well, though not as consistent, concerning itself more with directional effects and immersion that power (or this component at least). Car engines have nice rumbling to them, and sniper bullets wiz through the soundstage with high pitch and clarity through their intended targets. Dialogue is also excellent, balanced in the center channel and remaining consistent through the listening experience. Good job Universal.
Things start with two alternate endings (11:03), both of which are notably different from the theatrical and while just as convoluted, could have been a touch more believable for the movie. Eight deleted scenes (17:13) are next, including a small romance arc with Breacher and Caroline, and a little more on the Sugar arc. They have some more depth but that does not mean they are good. The making of look at the film (8:32) includes thoughts on the story and on Ayer, and doing the tactical stuff. Superficial and underwhelming, this is. The package also comes with a standard definition disc and a digital copy for Ultraviolet and iTunes services for your dining and dancing pleasure.
Post-Schwarzenegger film experience accomplished for this writer and it was not horrible to start. However, it starts to get increasingly harder to bear, serving as a Chinese Water Torture with guns and strange hairstyles. Technically, the disc is quite the jewel, and from a bonus material perspective, definitely could have used some work. A rental at least to see what Arnold is up to these days, and anything after that is up to you friendo.