As the world (hopefully) eventually recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, a question lingers, threatening to burn a hole through one’s mind: Will Arnold Schwarzenegger make a bigger movie comeback? Well, in some ways, he never went away from movies for very long. An example: David Ayer’s Sabotage. Released in 2014, Sabotage is a surprisingly respected action thriller film, despite being (in my opinion) perhaps too stereotypically crass and stupid for its own good. If you’re looking for an action movie that defies your expectations, you won’t really find it here.

Schwarzenegger plays a guy named John “Breacher” Wharton, a DEA Special Ops dufus who leads a corrupt team that steals $10 million from some criminal “bad guys.” Well, immediately things go wrong on the mission. Not only does one of their crew die, but very soon they cannot find the money, which already leads to the element of mystery. Soon, people in the crew start getting picked off one by one, meaning they have more to consider than where the money is hidden.

Is Sabotage any good?

As I said, I found this movie to be needlessly crass, to the point where it seemed forced. I hate to sound like a prude (I’m truly not), but the excess profanity, strip club scenes, drug use, and violence actually serve to distract from any genuine character development. Believe me, I feel weird making this critique, as I own films like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, but I just think that stuff got in the way. I think it would also work better if the movie was funnier, or scarier, or maybe even artsier.

That being said, the film does have positives. I think Sabotage does the important task of reminding us that things like DEA raids, spying, wiretaps, informants, etc. constitute a dirty business, with plenty of, let’s just say, low-grade participants. In short, this isn’t exactly a film that runs interference for the DEA, FBI, CIA, or other alphabet agencies. In addition to whoever is killing off agents over stolen money, most people in Wharton’s crew are no more respectable than bar patrons or liquor store lurkers. The primary difference is, of course, their specialized sets of skills (which they likely didn’t discover through their SAT tests).

Sabotage still plays it safe

Just like the characters wanting to find out where the money is, the makers of this film already found one possible answer: Making movies like this. Sabotage might make the DEA seem shifty, but it still appeals to the macho tropes that action movies are known for, even if it’s not as action movie-like as possible. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t have more American flags scattered throughout, or dangle soldier’s dog tags in front of our faces for the entire run-time. The final message (for me) was that “Yes, renegade, violent law enforcement is a dirty, dirty business, but it sure looks fun and necessary! And hey, why not go bad-ass rogue, enter the cartel’s compound and steal their ill-gotten money?”

To be fair, the movie isn’t that bad. One might expect it to be contaminated with explosives and cheesy one-liners, but it’s not absolutely brimming with those camp elements. In some respects, it reminds me of Predator minus Predator, where Billy (Sonny Landham) and the rest are replaced by colorfully named characters like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello), and Pyro (Max Martini). Also, in addition to sprinkling a little distrust on corrupt alphabet agencies, there’s that simple dynamic of not trusting everyone you get close to. That’s usually a good source of dramatic tension, and this movie taps into that with some success (though it’s not really a nail-biter for me).

Final thoughts on Sabotage

Unfortunately, we live in a world where hostages are taken, and where guns, drugs, and human cargo still get smuggled. It’s overwhelmingly about that sweet, sweet cash. This is another movie about when such a plan fails. Regardless of what sets off an ambush, know that you’re playing with human lives. However, had this film been toned down and made a little more mainstream, we might be eating a Sabotage cereal with a free Pyro toy inside for the kids, or maybe an A-Team-like spinoff called “Breacher’s Bunch.”

What are your thoughts on Sabotage? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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