★★ / ★★★★
It appears as though Breacher (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of DEA agents (Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Mark Schlegel) have succeeded in stealing ten million dollars from the Rios-Garza cartel without the American government knowing. But when they go underground to retrieve the money that very night, someone has beaten them to it. Soon, members of Breacher’s team begin to meet gruesome deaths, from being run over by a train to being nailed to the ceiling. An investigator (Olivia Williams) is assigned to investigate the murders.
The writing by Skip Woods and David Ayer prevents what could have been a highly entertaining action film—boasting a talented cast of tough guys (and gal)—from truly taking off. When characters speak, especially Breacher expressing how much his team means to him, there is not an iota of a believable moment or feeling. It is like listening to tires screeching, a test of patience and endurance.
An attempt is made to make the lead character more interesting and sympathetic. The backstory involving the kidnapping of his wife and son is tragic but never delved into completely. Connecting the dots is a challenge—and a pointless exercise—because the victims are either shown or mentioned only during the first scene and toward the end when explanation is required in order to move the plot forward. Thus, a rhythm behind the revelations is not established. Events occur out of convenience rather than that of natural progression.
Breacher’s team is unruly and unpleasant—which is a positive quality in a movie like this. Since the material does not have enough time to turn every character into a believable person we might encounter in the streets, at least they are not boring to be around. There is a roughness or ruggedness to most of them and the quieter ones do stand out because of the way they look or carry themselves. In other words, Breacher’s team is tough in different ways. If the writers had found a way to get us to care more about them, the picture might have worked on another level.
The action scenes are loud and gruesome at times. It seems as though just about everyone prefers to use big guns and so the combination of sounds following the pressing of the trigger amps up the tension. There are moments, however, when it reverts to clichés like a person being able to outrun a rain of bullets while moving rather slowly. Such scenes needed to be reedited to make it appear as though the situation was unfolding very quickly and one mistake could mean game over.
“Sabotage,” directed by David Ayer, is elevated by Williams because she is convincing as a tough and dirty-talking cop. I imagined her getting along perfectly with Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala from “End of Watch”—also directed by Ayer. It is a good decision to cast Williams because she exudes intelligence without even trying. At first glance, I expected her to play a character with an uptight nature and so when she starts cracking jokes and trying to make tough-sounding phrases work, I appreciated her sense of humor—a quality that the film does not offer very often.