By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition from politics back to acting has left much to be desired. Performances in silly actioners, The Expendables (1&2),  The Last Stand (though I like it), and Escape Plan have simply lacked the punch, and er, muscle, so to speak. The appearances in these films have Arnie exercising his tongue as it is forcibly planted in his cheek. Though his latest movie, Sabotage, has its flaws, at least it is a step in the right direction.  Writer/director David Ayer, whose filmography includes dark, dirty, and violent films, End of Watch, Harsh Times, and Training Day, gives Arnold something gritty and nasty to chomp on besides his cigar and scenery.

Schwarzenegger stars as a DEA team leader, John “Breacher” Wharton. His unit consists of a talented group of warriors, not afraid to get their hands dirty when taking down criminals in the narcotics business. When Wharton’s team decides to take a taste of a kingpin’s money during a mission, they not only set themselves up for legal trouble within their department, they find themselves under attack, as professional killers target each member one by one.

Director Ayer, who co-wrote the screenplay with Skip Woods (The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) takes his audience on a dark journey of greed, violence, and carnage that had me tensely watching. Ayer and Woods present their story as a mystery, but to be honest, I had little trouble figuring out said mystery. Still, the film does deliver action and entertainment, though certain plot elements will have people questioning the logic behind them. Some of the dialogue and scenarios get a tad corny and silly, but when Ayers and his cast get down and dirty, its hard not to get into those scenes. The action sequences are thrilling and exciting, and thankfully, Ayers, Woods, and Arnold keep the tongues out of their cheeks. No, self-aware parodies are found this time around, therefore, I found this change of tone for Schwarzenegger to be a refreshing one.

Arnie credibly portrays the lead here, but doesn’t really stretch his chops much. The cast also features Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, and Mirelle Enos as his elite team.  The cast mostly play two dimensional roles, but not so badly that their performances are painful or difficult to watch. Their job is to kick ass, and do it hard, but not much more is expected from the actors in the film. If it were not for some of the silly writing, perhaps these actors and characters wouldn’t have some unintentionally funny scenes.

Because Ayer has done mostly solid work as a writer and director, I’m willing to bet Woods shares more of the blame why the film does have some silly moments. I don’t know that for sure, but I am simply making a judgement call based on some of his previous work (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Swordfish). Nevertheless, I am giving Sabotage a generous 3 star rating, because despite the questionable writing and plot choices, I found myself entertained and thrilled in some key moments. I also think that I enjoyed Arnold doing something  more serious and less cheesy than his last few movies. If one can handle plentiful gore and intense violence, and can forgive some issues in the script, go see Sabotage, but don’t pay full price for it.

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