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Movie review: Sabotage

Despite a powerful cast and cop-movie experience of director David Ayer, Sabotage’s confusing plot and cookie-cutter cliché characters ruins any chance the film may have had at decency.

March 29, 2014 | 11:36 a.m. CST

Legendary film director David Ayer (Training Day) returns with Sabotage, a gritty, visceral cop flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as John “Breacher” Wharton, the leader of an elite DEA unit with a predictably troubled past. The film opens with his squad on their way to a bust and cracking fart jokes. They kick down doors and gun down bad guys. The cops then turn dirty, stealing $10 million from the stash house. The cash then disappears and members of the unit subsequently start dying off one by one. The remaining agents are paranoid of everyone, including each other, as they try to track down both the missing cash and stay alive. They eventually implode with only Breacher left standing. It’s revealed that he stole the money; he needed the fortune to pay off Mexican officials to track down the murderers of his wife and son. The film fades on Schwarzenegger staring at bodies of cartel members littered around him, a bottle of whiskey in front of him and cigar screwed in his mouth.

The plot is as frustratingly convoluted as it sounds. It’s difficult to figure out which underdeveloped narrative thread Ayer wants audiences to pull on. Add in regular police Detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) investigating the murders in Breacher’s unit and it all turns into a bloody, bullet-y pulp.

The worst part of the film is the character development. The rough-and-rogue agents have nothing to offer beneath an avalanche of macho-man clichés and f-bombs. Indeed, it’s as if Ayer snatched every bad cop character cliché he could find and stuffed them into a single script. At one point, the group needs a Disney movie-esque training montage to smooth over rifts about the missing money. Seriously.

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The group features actors like Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard and Joe Manganiello. Of those, only Worthington puts up a good show; Howard’s role can almost be classified as a cameo and Manganiello is the prime macho-man offender.

The movie is brutally violent. It’s cool in the sense that it’s near-nonstop action and is shot more like a video game than a film. The scene where the squad is systematically clearing an apartment building is awesome and gripping. Despite that and a few other riveting action scenes, the movie is more confusing than cool. Also, Schwartzenegger can do a little more than puff on cigars and flip between looking clueless and looking mildly upset.

Vox Rating: V

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