Director: David Ayer; Screenwriters: David Ayer, Skip Woods; Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Joe Mangello, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Josh Holloway, Mireille Enos, Kevin Vance, Harol Perrineau; Running time: 106 minutes; Certification: 15
After I saw the trailer for End Of Watch, David Ayer’s previous film which depicted a couple of cops grinding the dangerous, crime-fuelled streets of LA, I thought it looked all sorts of awful; like one of those generic shoot-em-up cartel movies with too many bullets and too few brains, that treated the audience like mindless drones unable to comprehend even the smallest bit of character development. How utterly wrong I was. It turned how to be a truly astonishing piece of work and one of the most realistic and genuine cop dramas I’ve ever seen. William Friedkin would even cite it as, “…maybe the best cop film ever.”, so I would urge anyone reading this to check it out immediately.
Such was my experience, and such was my anticipation for Ayer’s follow-up. The pieces were in place for Sabotage; I saw the trailer, didn’t think it looked anything special, hoped it would turn around and surprise me… but perhaps asking for the same trick twice in a row was a tall order. The film isn’t without some guilty pleasures; sticking firmly to the genre he knows and clearly loves, Ayer has crafted himself another explosive actioner with a knowing sense of ridiculousness, which is where the film almost finds itself at home. The action sequences are bloody and frenzied, Schwarzenegger, the prodigal son, once more finds himself dominating the screen and making the audience love him, and some of the dialogue is brilliantly rubbish.
That would have almost been enough to win us over had at other times the film not taken itself far too seriously. A jarring barrier between the jovial and the solemn, whereby the drama clearly wants to be taken seriously but the gaps are filled in with a farcical adhesive, jams on the breaks. I think we end up laughing at it more than with it, even if the divide is a thin one. The damning problem seems to stem from direct comparisons with End Of Watch, which perhaps isn’t totally fair, but is unavoidable nonetheless. It’s nothing like as powerful or interesting – or even fun – and if there’s an argument that it purposefully forsakes the confines of realism for a more straight to DVD-like trash-fest, then it has no right being so austere.
Aside from the fact that Sam Worthington can’t hide his Aussie accent, the performances are pretty decent – at least as good as you’re going to get in this sort of film. It’s a shame that even Arnie can’t elevate it a notch, the man who has so often made even bad films completely watchable. Yet maybe that’s just it: Sabotage is not a bad film, it’s just misjudged. It can’t quite figure out which way to swing, and in the end that indecisiveness has caused its undoing. Sporadically enjoyable, consistently unremarkable.