By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s not an act of sabotage, but it is an act of extravagant and aggressive borrowing — to no avail.
The new action crime thriller Sabotage borrows the title of the 1936 Alfred Hitchcock thriller (that was borrowed once before for a martial arts thriller in 1996), the plot of the 1939 Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None, and the structure of a previous Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Predator.
But the film is neither Hitchcockian in its suspense or sophistication, nor Christie-like in its cleverness or intricacy. (At least it’s predatory.)
Instead, it is a macho, violent shoot-em-up that doesn’t do much more than squeeze triggers and slobber over carnage.
In the gritty Sabotage, Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the renegade commander of an elite Drug Enforcement Agency task force that finds itself being hunted down and picked off one by one after they bust into a Mexican drug cartel safe house and remove $10 million.
Or, at least, try to remove the money because it’s no longer there. Who took it?
Breacher’s crew includes Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, and Mireille Enos –- each nicknamed male a cardboard cutout virtually indistinguishable from the others.
Meanwhile, Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau play the Atlanta homicide investigators who are looking over Breacher’s shoulder, and Martin Donovan is the superior who lets Breacher go on working with his crew even though he’s a suspect under investigation.
In true Agatha Christie fashion, the body count rises and everyone’s a suspect.
But in false Agatha Christie fashion, the whodunit element is trotted out and then ignored: all that really seems to matter here are the scenes of violence and mayhem.
Director David Ayer (End of Watch, Street Kings, Harsh Times), who wrote the screenplay for Training Day and co-wrote the Sabotage script (previously titled Ten and Breacher) with Skip Woods, looks at first as if he cares about the plot enough to make it worth sitting through all the ho-hum gunfights and shaky-cam confrontations, which glorify the use of automatic weaponry to a ridiculous degree.
Post-politico Schwarzenegger has governed his second-chance movie career rather well to this point, having turned in solid, respectable work as the star of The Last Stand and the co-star of Escape Plan. Here he commands the screen and the focal role in decent fashion, but the narrative goes so far off the rails in the film’s conclusion that it feels as if the screenwriters are satirizing their own product in a morally objectionable way.
The rest of the cast merely poses and glowers, with the exception of Williams, who is interesting to watch as the cop sparring with Schwarzenegger, mostly because we’re not used to seeing her in such a hard-edged role.
But that’s just the slimmest of silver linings in this gory, tiresome cloud.
And then there were just 1½ stars out of 4 for this muscular and brutal, bullet-riddled and futile mystery thriller that offers action instead of drama.
Sabotage sabotages itself.