Hard-bitten drug enforcement agent 'Breacher' Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads a raucous, amoral, rock-and-roll styled strike force who take down a Mexican drug den with extreme prejudice only to help themselves to the drug money. But when Breacher and his team revisit their hiding place, the money has gone. A month of intense investigation by internal affairs fails to unearth any substantial evidence to bring them to book. So Breacher's squad go back to work but end up getting bumped off by a mysterious murderer, one by one. Caroline (Olivia Williams), a homicide detective assigned to the investigation, starts trailing Breacher who comes to suspect the killers are either part of the vengeful cartel or someone closer to home.
Although David Ayer kicked off The Fast and the Furious franchise penning the first entry back in 2001 as a writer and director he is best known for carving his own niche genre of gritty cop thrillers. Coming after the critically lauded career high point of End of Watch (2012), Sabotage emerges a confounding, inexplicable misstep hastily squeezed out before the release of Ayer's more prestigious Second World War drama, Fury (2014). It is a strange botched experiment that aims to fuse the trappings of an old school Schwarzenegger kill-a-thon with a hoary Ten Little Indians style murder mystery and the corrupt cop stylings of Ayer's Training Day (2001). Opening with the team's all-out assault on the Mexican mob, the film goes out of its way to outrage interweaving video footage of a woman tortured to death, coke snorting, girl on girl action, balls-to-the-wall violence, characters slipping on guts spilled from eviscerated corpses and at one point, a close-up on a shit filled toilet bowl.
With all that going on things really should not be this dull. The premise holds potential yet the execution proves sloppy, too corny and ludicrous to be believable yet too wayward and lethargic to titillate as an exploitation movie. For all Ayer's laboured attempts at grungy authenticity none of these hairy heavy metal anti-heroes come across as convincing cops no matter how hard the script insists they are experts at going deep undercover. Each member of the eclectic ensemble cast gets to enact some ridiculous posturing caricature to generally embarrassing effect before being offed in gory fashion. Sporting a goatee more suited to Metallica front-man James Hetfield, Avatar (2009) star Sam Worthington must hope James Cameron gets busy on that sequel soon while the likes of Terrence Howard, Kevin Vance, Josh Holloway and fellow onetime Lost castaway Harold Perrineau struggle to keep a straight face whilst spouting choice lines like "You're waving your finger in the devil's pussy" and "Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are getting dead." However, Mireille Enos is kind of fun as drug-addled, hyper-manic ball-busting kick-boxer Lizzy, a role far removed from this accomplished actress' more dependable Detective Sarah Linden in The Killing. Olivia Williams also emerges one of the few to walk away from this debacle with their dignity intact, at least until an unconvincing romantic sub-plot rears its head. Indeed so many things about Sabotage are unconvincing.
Given there was always something faintly unsettling about Schwarzenegger's neo-fascistic superman persona there is some dramatic mileage to be gained from subverting his screen image. Co-writing with Skip Woods, author of the execrable A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) and the more amiable screen version of The A-Team (2010), Ayers tries to fashion an ambiguous Schwarzenegger for a new age where being bad-ass is supposedly more important than being heroic. It is odd seeing the Governator tackle such a morally murky role. Unfortunately this late career stab at complexity only highlights his limitations as an actor. He reacts to each twist in the plot with a grimace of pain liable to be shared by exasperated viewers. Once the third act starts spinning revelations like errant fireworks things only grow increasingly unlikely. With the resolution to the Ten Little Indians angle deeply unsatisfying, Ayers tacks on an all-guns blazing saloon shootout styled like a western to sate Schwarzenegger fans. It is too little too late.