Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Cinema File #340: "Sabotage" Review

I know I'm a little late with this one, but I just saw the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Sabotage. What's that you say? You forgot that Sabotage was even a thing? Well, you'd be forgiven if you did, seeing as how it came and went from American theaters almost as fast as Spike Lee's Old Boy. This movie represents the third consecutive bomb for Arnold Schwarzenegger since he left the Kali-fornia governor's mansion, and its really a shame too, because while none of them have been necessarily great on the order of his best work (as if anything could be), they've all been much better than the bad press surrounding them. Sabotage is admittedly the weakest by far of this Trilogy of Financial Disappointment, but that's not to say there isn't a lot to like, if not love about this testosterone heavy crime thriller.

Sabotage follows a crew of rough and tumble undercover DEA agents who try to skim ten million dollars from a pile of confiscated drug money only to be double crossed by one of their own, and later find themselves being murdered one by one. The Agatha Christie-esque "And Then There Were None" structure would ordinarily demand a premium on characterization so that the targets are interesting enough to care about before they die, and if the film could be said to have one major flaw, its that outside of Schwarzenegger as the team's beleaguered captain and maybe the lone female member, there isn't a lot to differentiate between these jocky misfits. I found myself referring to them by their past roles more than anything, Guy from LOST, Guy from How I Met Your Mother, Guy from Pacific Rim, and so on.

What the film lacks in interesting characters it makes up for in, well, not much really. It's weird; as much as I definitely came away from the movie with a mostly positive impression, thinking back on it now, I can't really pin point exactly what it was that I liked about it, and every time I try to focus on one element or another, only the flaws are memorable. Maybe there's just something about the raw, shaky cam thrill ride attitude, but then I normally hate that kind of thing in movies. The mystery is fun when its set up, but as it goes along, it gets too distracted from the main point of a once loyal crew torn apart, going off on tangents and misdirects introducing red herrings that are so obvious they only end up feeling like cheats. By the time the truth is finally revealed, its almost perfunctory, and then only an excuse for a final twist that barely qualifies as one to anyone even halfway paying attention. I'm not even sure why its called Sabotage, though it was changed from Ten and Breacher, both of which would have made a lot more sense in retrospect.

So why would I still recommend this movie despite its many, seemingly unavoidable structural flaws? Well, because its fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger, that's why. I know, its shallow, stupid, and probably motivated more by nostalgia than anything, and the fact that I recognize this doesn't make it less self-indulgent, but I guess there's still just a part of me that can't hate a movie that gives me Arnie with a gun in his hand kicking ass and taking names. This he does, with more gusto than you would expect for someone his age, once again proving his metal as an action star even though no one's paying attention anymore. Look at that picture right above this paragraph, with him all squinty and shit. You know he's just getting ready to kick somebody's ass, and its gonna be awesome. Every second he's on screen, which is thankfully the majority of the film as you would imagine, is delightful, and the last scene of the movie features him exclusively in a coda that almost by itself makes the rest of the film worth it.

More than anything else, Sabotage prompts one to reflect upon the once blockbuster career of the action icon at the helm and wonder just where he might go from here. Clearly, the lack of enthusiasm for his post-political film work has more to do with changing demographics and film going tastes than any apparent diminished capacity on Arnold's part, but then where does that leave him going forward? Today we like our action heroes firmly nestled in comic book franchises, and we all know how that turned out the last time he tried one of those, so it seems to me the only plausible alternative is a return to the genre that originally made him great: Danny Devito comedies. Or maybe barring that, some heady action-oriented Science Fiction. You know, assuming Triplets with Eddie Murphy somehow doesn't work out (and no, that's not a joke - that's actually happening).

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