He’s been Mr. Universe, The Terminator, a professional politician, at the centre of scandals; but has Arnold Schwarzenegger got what it takes to be the star of a modern action movie anymore? Well, if Sabotage is the test case, the answer to that is clear.
Arnie plays John Wharton, aka “Breacher”, that head of an elite, if oddball, team of undercover DEA agents. His team of misfits include Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington and Josh Holloway. When the team decides to get paid for what they do, it all goes wrong. The $10 million they took from a drug cartel goes missing, the team are benched for six months due to an investigation and although they get back to work, one by one they start to get picked off by the cartel. To say the plan’s gone awry is an understatement.
This is a near-perfect modern version of the action movies we all knew, loved and thought were the greatest. We have people who can actually act, but who stay within the realms of the script, action sequences that are dynamic but not flashy or extravagant and dialogue that is awesome, punchy and eminently quotable. I’m being really serious on that last part, not only the banter between the team, but Olivia Williams being sarcastic in an American accent is something you’ll hear from your friends from now until the apocalypse.
Everything does not blow up. Are you paying attention Michael Bay? They key to a good action flick is not to detonate more cubic feet of TNT than was required to put man on the moon. It doesn’t have endless amounts of parkour-fu, the current STD of the action genre. It just has some good honest violence as part of its core and the good guys storing their bullets in the body parts of the bad guys is all I want from this type of movie.
There’s also some actual moviemaking in here, there’s a recurring device of intercutting between crimes taking place and their investigation, which makes for an excellent framing device and some very economical filmmaking, there’s not a dull moment.
Can Arnie be the star of a modern action movie? Yes. However it’s only true if he’s surrounded by people who are actually making an action movie anyway, and aren’t expecting his mere presence to turn a film conceived on a napkin into a blockbuster. Sabotage is an action movie first and foremost, Schwarzenegger is icing on the delicious cake they’ve got all the ingredients for and have baked to perfection. For action fans it’s a must-see. For the rest of the world, if you’re after an honest popcorn movie, there’s not much better to spend your beer tokens on.
– Taylor Iscariot