Overview: After ten million dollars goes missing, members of an elite DEA Tactical Special Forces Team are murdered, one by one. Open Road Films; 2014; Rated R; 109 Minutes.
These Guys: If you think action movies are best measured by gallons of testosterone, I have just found your Citizen Kane. The first half of this movie is all bulging biceps, f-bombs, liquor shots, objectified strippers, explosions, gunshots, grunts and scowls. Since we’re two sentences into the review, I can safely assume that I’ve written more words than anyone who enjoys this entire movie will care to read. This film’s first hour flexes too hard. The camera chases the veiny bulk of our agents’ arms more than the actual action. This isn’t comedic overstatement; the position of the camera during the opening drug raid is literally dictated by the muscle here. (Note of credit: I don’t know if any movie has better presented Arnold Schwarzenegger’s largeness.) When I first noticed the misogyny and homophobia in the “dialogue,” I instinctively braced myself for a wedgie and swirly.
Temporary Reprieve: Sixty minutes pass before we are given a character worth our concern. Writer Skip Woods and director David Ayers offer up Investigator Caroline Brentwood, a much more-movie friendly protagonist than the collection of weapon-toting American Gladiator rejects we’ve seen thus far. Olivia Williams’ character may be a peace offering to all the weak film pussies like myself, but when the story pursues her investigation of the gruesome murders of Breacher’s team, it hits a nice stride. For a moment. The issue is most of the other actors are forgettable, but Mirielle Enos is flatly unpleasant, even before the movie needs her to be. I’m not sure what talent might have saved her character Lizzy from her place in the script as the mean-as-the-men female team member.
Ruined Wheels: In End of Watch, Ayers nearly derailed a really good movie with his reinvented wheels. His use of arbitrary first person perspective was dishonest and disruptive. In Sabotage, he employs even more new tricks that fail without the same safety net of solid acting and traceable narrative arc. Here, Ayers and cinematographer Bruce McLeery laughably mount a back-facing camera on the edge of a gun barrel—a pistol, not a rifle—framing the weapon with a facial close-up in the middle of a key shootout. Then, during a car chase that turns into a ridiculous climactic U-Turn showdown, the camera seems mounted to the bottom of the vehicles, and it never presents the high-octane energy that might have been achieved here.
Overall: After the wide release of The Raid 2, there may not be much credit left to offer other action movies this year, but even so, Sabotage does itself no favors. It might offer boldly abrasive images and use new techniques, but in the hands of an unskilled artist, that’s not necessarily a good thing. More fun can be had watching the music video of the same name, thirty times in a row.