Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t wasted any time since announcing his return from retirement, cranking out movies with the prolificacy of someone who knows that the clock is ticking on his Hollywood career. But despite recent appearances in “The Expendables 2,” “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan,” Schwarzenegger has yet to make a film that measures up to some of his more iconic roles. The actor’s latest project, “Sabotage,” certainly had the promise to be that movie. Directed by David Ayer, who’s pretty much become Hollywood’s go-to guy for gritty cop films, this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” shares the same basic premise used for one of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits, “Predator.” It also boasts one hell of an ensemble cast for a seemingly generic action thriller, which is why it’s so disappointing that that’s exactly what “Sabotage” turned out to be.
Schwarzenegger stars as John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA task force that’s taken down some of the biggest drug lords in the world. His team is comprised of some colorful characters – each with their own silly codename like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello) and Sugar (Terrence Howard) – but they’re the best at what they do, oozing with so much confidence that they manage to steal $10 million during their latest raid on a Mexican cartel safe house. When they go back to retrieve the hidden money, however, they discover that it’s missing, replaced by a single, ominous bullet. Before long, members of Breacher’s team start to get picked off one by one, with homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) assigned to track down those responsible. But while the brutal murders appear to be the work of the cartel, the surviving agents begin to suspect that someone from within their own ranks is hunting them.
The trailers for “Sabotage” would lead you to believe that it’s an action-packed film, when in reality, it’s more of a slow-burning crime thriller with the occasional gun fight thrown in to keep things exciting. And although that represents an interesting change of pace for Schwarzenegger, it’s not one that fans will necessarily welcome with open arms. This is the most subdued that Arnie has ever been, and unfortunately, he’s just not as entertaining without his larger-than-life charisma to fall back on. His co-stars are constantly upstaging him, particularly an almost unrecognizable Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos as his drug- and booze-addled wife/teammate, and Olivia Williams as the detective investigating the killings. Why Terrence Howard even bothered to show up at all is the biggest mystery, because he hardly has a line of dialogue until the final act, though Josh Holloway and Joe Manganiello help pick up the slack in supporting roles.
In fact, the movie’s best moments come from the frat-like camaraderie between the task force members. This is one badass group of DEA agents, and every time they’re shown in action, it only serves as a reminder that a better, more interesting movie could have been made from their exploits. Once they start dropping like flies, so does the enthusiasm earned from the high-octane set piece that opens the movie, eventually devolving into a rather dull whodunit that’s so desperate to shock the audience with its numerous twists that the ending leaves more questions than answers. The route that Ayer and Skip Woods’ script takes wouldn’t feel so anticlimactic if it weren’t lacking so badly in any sort of tension, because there’s nothing about “Sabotage” that’s even remotely surprising, except perhaps for the fact that a film with such a cool premise and awesome cast could be this boring.