Slow thriller offers one-way ticket to mortuary

Slow thriller offers one-way ticket to mortuary

Sabotage

English (A) *

Director: David Ayers

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Olivia Williams

Arnold Schwarzenegger remains a titan among action-hero stars, but it is becoming apparent that his last great film was James Cameron’s True Lies, filmed an era ago, in 1994.

His celluloid flair — which has been possibly sidetracked by his long stint as the “governator” of the 12th largest republic in the world, California (by GDP), and an equally long escapade with the house maid — has apparently left him in regression.

Yet, if the title to his latest film, Sabotage, can sum up the many setbacks to his personal life, it can also spell out what he has planned for his post-governor career in Hollywood. And if his performance in this film is any indication, Mr Schwarzenegger’s once herculean ability is stiffening and gaunt, his once powerful connect with the audience, waning.

How could this happen? After all, Sabotage is a film directed by the great David Ayers, whose gritty police dramas, End of Watch (2012) and Training Day (2001), established his pedigree as a writer/filmmaker of repute; with a cast bolstered by additional A-listers, including Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard and Mireille Enos.

Yet, the film, mirroring its name, cripples its own aspirations. In part preposterous, and by other parts over-the-top, this B-grade clunker is a contemporary wannabe of Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice (1987). 

Yet, it so soulless at its centre that it may nauseate even rabid action fans. The story is simple enough. An elite squad of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents steal $10 million and run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel — and seemingly themselves.
Under criminal investigation and with one foot out the agency’s door, the nine-man unit (including one drug-crazed female officer) hold up in a trailer park so trashy that it makes Beirut look like Boston. 

They are largely a posse of recognisable faces with forgettable names, disfigured by the coarseness of their language, their clothes and their stink. It’s as though Ayers decide to create a police unit so far off the reservation that he choose Hell’s Angels bikers as his models.

The effect is striking, but when the team opens its mouth and postures, one gets the senses that it’s all make-believe. Sam Worthington may have been a hot item in tinsel town after his success in Avatar, but here he acts like a wild dog pretending to be house-trained. 

There is none of depth of acting which turned him into a star in 2009. But he can hardly be blamed. He and the rest of the “dirty eight” are auxiliaries to Mr Schwarzenegger’s one-man killing machine. Eight opportunities for violent death.

If Mr Schwarzenegger’s role as unit lead John “Breacher” Wharton has muscle (no pun intended), it is because he is the most fleshed-out character in the film. But whenever Ayers focuses on Breacher — and there are many such John Wayne-esque moments — as he stares off into the distance, cigar stuck in his mouth, it is apparent that they are both chasing something that no amount of money can restore. 

There is a gem of a film hidden under layers of bad language, poor direction and criminal editing. But it is buried deep.

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