Deary me, I really wanted to like this, but even the most ardent of Arnie fans would probably admit that this was a missed opportunity, if not a spectacular misfire. The pedigree is decent enough - a director, David Ayer, that has been involved with many hard hitting, macho films (Training Day, End of Watch, Hard Times); and a testosterone packed ensemble cast that resembles a latter day Predator-esque group of characters (including a kick-ass female a la Aliens). Unfortunately, all those positives are hampered by lacklustre performances and a terrible script. Apparently, the latter was subject to numerous re-writes - Ayer supposedly stepped in to polish it up, but as the saying goes, you can't polish a turd - and if so, it really shows. The plot becomes increasingly nonsensical as the film progresses, but criminally, Sabotage is devoid of real tension or urgency - save for a couple of standout action sequences at the beginning and tail-end of it's running time. For the remainder, it just kind of meanders to its conclusion.
The problem is that it seems like Sabotage isn't sure what it wants to be, and the several tonal shifts are too severe for the film to be effective as a whole. It wants to have its cake and eat it by trying to intertwine the elements of action, thriller, revenge-drama and murder mystery but it just looks like something that exploded in the oven. In retrospect, It would probably have worked better as a straight-up DEA vs the drugs cartels or revenge driven thriller, but scriptwriter Skip Woods - who was also responsible for the atrocity that was A Good Day to Die Hard - thought it would be an innovative idea (and it might have seemed like one at the time) to do an action variation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. On paper maybe it was.
Legendary DEA special ops leader John "Breacher" Wharton (Schwarzenegger), and his team, conspire to steal ten million dollars of drug money whilst on a assignment to take down a Mexican cartel. Afterwards, the money goes missing, Breacher and co. are suspended, and his team are picked off one by one in the most gruesome fashion. There have been numerous filmic adaptations of Ten Little Indians; in recent years, Christie's conceit was used much more effectively in the John Cusack horror/thriller Identity and even that relied on a slightly cop-out deus ex machina to end the film.
Sabotage actually begins promisingly. The first 15 minutes are really good, beginning with a glimpse of the personal turmoil within Schwarzenegger's Breacher, clearly presenting his character as a tortured soul. Then it swiftly moves onto a standout action sequence showcasing the tactical nous of the special ops team as they raid the heavily armed stronghold of a Mexican cartel. Skip Woods has a background in weapons and tactics consultancy, so one assumes he had an influence on the authenticity of the set piece. There is nothing else as noteworthy as those opening minutes subsequently besides a car chase-cum-firefight later featuring Arnie (who else?). The rest of the movie focuses on the bloody consequences for Breacher's team resulting from the opening salvo, and it's pretty much downhill from that point unfortunately. The ending reverts to the resolution of Breacher's personal demons seen at the beginning, but it feels like a tacked on sequence from a different film.
David Ayer has a good track record of getting strong performances from his actors - see Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch, Christian Bale in Hard Times - but no-one particular covers themselves in glory here. A serious Schwarzenegger is pretty effective as the haunted Breacher, and the role stretches him more than usual (no jokes or one liners), but it's not his Copland. Elsewhere, Olivia Williams is miscast and behaves like she's stepped off the set of a pilot for CSI Atlanta; and the likes of Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello and Josh Holloway are given little to do beyond playing variations of a redneck stereotype.
A special mention needs to go to what Sabotage gets away with for a 15 certification! The violence, frequent swearing (use of the f-bomb) and level of gore are unbelievable - back in the 80s to early 90s, it would almost certainly have been given an 18 certificate. I guess this a sign of the times, and indicative of society's desensitisation to what is acceptable. I'm not a prude but there is a scene featuring a video containing torture/murder that wouldn't be out of place in Paul Verhoeven's Robocop.