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Wednesday
Mar262014

TheArnoldFans' Review of SABOTAGE!

Man, it's great to be in a time again when there are multiple Arnold movies coming out in theaters each year! It feels like the 90s again, with Arnold showing up on talk shows and entertainment media constantly to promote the next film. Even though The Last Stand and Escape Plan have not been blockbusters box-office wise, you can't say that Arnold is not taking risks and pushing himself with the films he's making. He's playing different kinds of roles than before that acknowledge his increasing age without being overly jokey about it. He's also choosing unique, talented directors to work with like Kim Jee-Woon, Mikael Hafstrom, and now David Ayer. Arnold has never been about playing it safe- and that is proven again with SABOTAGE.

Note: Don't worry, this is a spoiler-free review, except for some plot points known from the trailer. 

I thought Escape Plan's original title of The Tomb would've been much better and more distinctive, and the same holds true with the original title of SABOTAGE, which was BREACHER. That title works on several levels, as it is Arnold's character's name, John Breacher, and it fits well with the themes in the movie. The elite DEA team that John leads must do lots of physical breaching of buildings where the drug dealers are, and you could say there is also breaching of moral lines and breaching of trust happening amongst the team members. But alas, the studio once again went with the more generic term SABOTAGE, which, while cool sounding, has little to do with what actually happens in the film. 

But enough about the title-- how much did I like the movie? A LOT! I can say without hyperbole that this is the most realistically violent Arnold movie ever. Commando may have a higher body count, and Total Recall may have lots of cartoonish gore, but SABOTAGE will kick your ass with its gritty realism. It sounds like marketing cheese, but this really is unlike any Arnold movie you've seen before. It has shootouts and car chases that are just brutal and messy, and don't feel perfectly choreographed like your typical action movie. Innocent bystanders get taken out sometimes, as you would expect amidst such chases in public areas. The action is very satisfying, but it makes you flinch often because even though John's team are the best at what they do, they don't ever feel invincible or safe all the time. As you probably know, the basic plot is that John's team decides to steal a bunch of money from a drug cartel during the opening raid of one of the cartel's hideouts. Then members of the team start getting murdered in quite horrific ways. I won't spoil these, but there is an obscene amount of blood and assorted body parts, so this is not for the squeamish! The rest of the movie involves an FBI agent played by Olivia Williams, trying to uncover both the truth about the missing drug money and who is responsible for the murders. Meanwhile, there are divisions growing amongst John's team as they start pointing fingers at each other, while John tries to keep them together and do his own investigating. 

Each of the actors playing John's team members give solid performances and bring out the unique attitude and qualities of the characters. They are comfortable enough with each other to treat each other like crap a lot, sometimes joking and sometimes more serious. Comparisons have been made to Dutch's group in Predator, and I'd say they don't feel quite as cohesive as that team, although part of that is the nature of this plot where they're suspecting each other, and part is I need to see the movie more times like I have with Predator. 

Arnold himself definitely brings his A game to this role. John Breacher is part Dutch, part Jericho Cane, and part John Matrix, but is pretty unqiue in that he is troubled and flawed. Like Arnold says in interviews, this is a movie showing lots of grey areas instead of everything being black and white, good and bad, and he plays that very believably. He still kicks lots of ass and commands respect as the heart of his team. There aren't the usual Arnold quips after kills in SABOTAGE, which lends better to the reailsm, but he does get in some glares, glances, and such as a subtle replacment for them, like when Sam Worthington's character asks John "We're not here to make arrests are we?" and John just gives a half smile and chuckles in response- it's a perfect Arnold moment, but not cheesy. He does have one line during an interrogation scene that got a huge laugh from the audience I was with in Columbus. Again, I won't spoil it, but you'll definitely get why it would especially appeal to people who just spent the weekend at the Arnold Sports Festival. 

Joe Manganiello is also great as Grinder. He has the physical presence and attitude to go toe-to-toe with Arnold believably, yet still defers and shows respect when Arnold pushes back. Joe is someone who I definitely won't mind seeing become the next big action star as the spiritual successor to Arnold- he has an air of ballsiness and confidence without seeming arrogant also, which is hard to pull off. Sam Worthington is also great as Monster- he also has some key moments with Arnold that are mostly quieter and lend well to his acting style. Mirelle Enos as Lizzy is fantastic, she definitely holds her own against all the men on the team, and plays her drug addiction convincingly-- she's mostly unlikable as a character, but that's what was called for, so she succeeds at this! Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway also do their thing well, albeit with more minor characters, but each gets their chance to shine. Really just solid actors all around, save more a couple of the bit roles.

The action is well executed, relying mostly on practical effects and very little CG that I could notice (as opposed to Expendables which is quite noticeable). There are some stretches in the middle act that are slower paced, but it didn't drag much, and makes the last act that much more impactful. A minor quibble is that it's pretty much all gunfights, with very little hand-to-hand combat to mix it up a little more, but that speaks again to the reality of this DEA/drug cartel world, they didn't shoehorn an epic hand-to-hand fight at the end like most action movies do. The other nitpick I have is that some aspects of the plot get a little confusing, figuring out who was working for who and for what reason, but that again will likely be made clearer with repeat viewings, and I very much look forward to seeing it several times during its hopefully LONG theatrical release! 

Now to give it a ranking next to other Arnold movies... this is tough because it really is a different kind of beast. It's very satisfying to watch, but not in your typical popcorn flick kind of way. The last scene is phenomenal and almost turns into a different kind of movie completely. My final verdict will have to wait until I see it more, but if pressed, I'd say this is a better movie than Last Stand and Escape Plan (both of which were good in their own right), but not at the level of the classics like Predator, Total Recall, and Terminator. Well worth seeing for any Arnold Fan or lover of gritty hard core action!

8 out of 10 stogies

Now a quick mini-review from Randy Jennings!

Thanks for the full review, Ryan! I'm glad you fully enjoyed it too. Because I'm working on some interviews, let me just throw in my super-quick review: LOVED IT!  In fact, I feel "Sabotage" is Arnold's best film in at least 18 years! Thank you, David Ayer for reinventing the Schwarzenegger action film. At times an Arnold film can be a little cheesy or light-hearted with the one-liners so it's so refreshing to see Arnold step into a new dark and gritty world. After seeing this serious film, with extreme violent realism and the best acting performance yet by the Austrian Oak, I can only hope he'll take permanent resident in this cinematic style for the majority of his future films. We've never seen an Arnold film character so humanized yet tough; he's constantly smoking stogies, he's dropping F-bombs left and right, he's barbecuing meat, at the strip joint, drinking and pumping iron in the gym... and if that wasn't manly enough, he's blowing away the villains with the loudest guns I've ever heard in a movie theater.

Sabotage breaks into my top 10 Schwarzenegger films. There's a lot of story and character set-up in the first half of the film but the second half is a wild ride and the ending is perfection. I can't wait to get back to the theaters this Friday! Who's with me?

8.5 out of 10 stogies for me!

– Randy Jennings

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