Sabotage
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard
109 mins; Class 18; KRS

Sabotage has Arnold Schwarzenegger in all-too-familiar cigar-chomping, machine gun-wielding, bench-pressing and scenery-chewing mode as John Breacher, leader of an elite Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

On their latest mission, the stakes are high for the gang – they execute a raid against members of a Mexican drug cartel – and swiftly and efficiently siphon off millions in drug money for their own personal gain.

Yet, they don’t get off so easily. Under suspicion from their super­iors, the team members plan to lie low… until one by one they are targeted and brutally assassinated by unknown assailants. Breacher has to team up with a sceptical police officer (Olivia Williams) to discover who is behind the murders.

While Schwarzenegger fans may delight in seeing him back at what he does best – having dipped his toe back in the Hollywood pool with cameos in the Expendables series, and solid if unmemorable roles in The Last Stand and Escape Plan – those less enamoured of him may find the ground trod by Sabotage is a little well-worn.

The film starts off explosively, with a very well-executed heist against the aforementioned cartel, when the team gatecrash a party that features much drug-snorting, many naked women and a gang of clichéd Mexican bad guys (oh for a film that features Mexican good guys… or do they really not exist, as Hollywood would have us believe?), as the gang takes them out one by one and carry out their heist – by dirtying dirty money even more.

As the story unfolds, the film is peppered with violent gun battles with a high body count, gruesome crime scenes featuring myriad body parts, and the occasional car chase.

The action is hyper-kinetic and faultless, the trademark of director David Ayers. Ayers also wrote and directed End of Watch, which realistically and grittily captured law enforcement officers at work.

But whereas this featured compelling and richly-drawn individuals, the myriad characters in Sabotage are crying out for some depth, and the action alone cannot compensate for the cardboard characters.

It is impossible to muster any sympathy at all for any of them

The story boasts a dramatis personae of larger-than-life characters that are physically imposing but have little by way of personality. Their names are the most interesting thing about them – Monster, Sugar, Neck, Pyro, Tripod, Grinder, Smoke and, um, Lizzy.

The cast includes familiar names such as Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Josh Holloway and Mireille Enos. But the gang is too large for any of its members to truly have an impact, save for Enos who makes the most of the little she has to work with and makes Lizzy somewhat more interesting.

Sure, they are a formidable team – tough, professional and uncompromising, but they are also unpleasant and uncouth, morally corrupt and have no compunction about double-crossing one another. They give law enforcement a bad name, their behaviour giving credence to those who claim America is nothing more than a police state.

Skip Woods’ script gives us no background at all, nor reasons why they are entitled to purloin millions and it is impossible to muster any sympathy at all for any of them.

A subplot involving a woman whom we see slowly being tortured to death on video is superfluous. It is there ostensibly to add depth to one of the characters, but only feels exploitative.

The only saving grace is Olivia Williams’s police officer Caroline Brentwood, a hard-working, forthright and honest detective assigned to investigate the brutal murders and who at times is horribly out of her depth.

Williams’s performance combines a mixture of resilience and vulnerability. She adds some sobriety to all the madness, and by being by far the only realistic character in the story – and the best actor in the mix – she succeeds in bringing out the best in Schwarzenegger, and things look up considerably in the few scenes they share.

Yet, this is after all a Schwarzenegger film, and it is not long before he goes all gung-ho again and gunfights his way to the denouement, sabotaging any notion that in his post-political acting career he can offer something different.