Sunday, 13 July 2014

Film Review: Sabotage (2014)

Director: David Ayer
Writers: Skip Woods and David Ayer
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard

Skip Woods is the luckiest man in Hollywood right now, if not the world. Since 2001 he has been paid to write scripts for a living yet has never once showed he has the talent to warrant any future employment. If I were as bad at my day job as he is at his, I would have been fired a long, long time ago. I can only assume he has photos of important Hollywood players doing things they wish no one knew about.

This is the man who, let us never forget, defecated on the Die Hard series before audiences’ very eyes last year and turned John McClane from action icon into an obnoxious moron in under 100 minutes. Yet here he is again being allowed to. pen another script and his alarming (if not downright disturbing) lack of writing talent has landed us with one of the year’s worst films to date. If Woods can be given credit for one thing it’s consistency.

Sabotage is a gratuitously nasty piece of trash in every sense of the word and is a prime example of why the pure action genre is rapidly dying out. It takes a lot for me to really hate a film but this is one film which made it all-too-easy for me to dislike, and the reasons why are all are up there on the screen with nowhere to hide.

First and foremost is the screenplay in which Woods demonstrates his only creative tool for making characters sound tough is for them to say ‘fuck’ every other word. Every character in the DEA task force squad sound and talk exactly the same way as each other; it’s ‘fuck’ this and ‘fuck’ that and ‘fuck you’ and ‘what the fuck is this’ and fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck all the way from minute one to the very end. Where Woods thinks this makes his characters sound tough and threatening, the audience soon becomes aware there is not one shred of character to anyone one screen, regardless of their age, race, size, gender, or ‘motivation’ (or lack thereof). Ipso facto, you can throw all the swear words and crude humour you like at the audience but it only alienates us from the story because everything is the same no matter who is saying it. Moreover, the dialogue wants so badly to be taken as mean and macho but only ever come off as tired, trite, and worst of all, laughable... ironic, as this film thinks of itself as being deadly serious.

The plot revolves around revenge and stolen money and drug cartels but I defy anyone to tell me what the point of it all was. An exposition dump at the hour mark attempts to give Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character some background and relevance but by this point it’s all at a loss, yet the film ploughs on regardless, oblivious of the fact that not one moment of all its blood and guts and killing has been earned. I feel sorry for Mireille Enos, an actress clearly worthy of better material than this but is totally out of her element as the only female in the DEA task force, forced to utter the same quasi-macho crap as her muscle bound co-stars. I’m all for strong female characters but in this she is a token female asked to deliver career-low dialogue and deserves much more.

Atrocious dialogue aside, the like of which you might expect from a first draft written by a fifteen year old who still thinks swearing makes you sound tough, Sabotage is equally as woeful to look at as it is to listen to. David Ayer, the man who is still living off the success of his Training Day screenplay from 13 years ago (Dark Blue was also great but no one saw that), doesn’t so much direct this film as just put the camera where he thinks Paul Greengrass might put the camera; that is, if Greengrass had had all his talent taken away and was reduced to working with Skip Woods. Ayer is the type of ‘director’ which is giving action cinema a bad name for he no concept of what makes for an exciting action sequence and relies on his audience being dumb enough to accept a camera on the barrel of a firing gun as progressive film making. He is the worst kind of director for action pictures; a man with no sense, respect, or interest for geography, space, and rhythm when shooting an action sequence, when his time could be used in find ways to make it look as obnoxious, nasty, and irritating as possible. At least someone like Michael Bay has a style of his own for better or worse, but Ayer is a hack on the evidence of his last three films.

Take a look at the supposedly ‘camcorder’ footage of both the execution film and (totally pointless) interrogation scenes. They are clearly meant to be amateur footage of a camera in the room, yet the footage cuts like movie with different angles and POVs; he can’t even convey the simplest of scenes with any conviction.

Casting Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sabotage was the one and only reason anyone would want to see this film, but the screenplay does not suit the star in any way. In his heyday Schwarzenegger was an interesting leading man when the material was right because there was no one else like him in the movies he made; he was the colossus amongst the rest of the cast, the one man you knew not to mess with because, well... just look at him. This played up to the star’s limited strengths as an actor and fans (of which I was one) lapped it up, but in this film he is just one of a squad of carbon copy men, all of which are muscular, tough-talking, and covered in tattoos. There is no reason to cast Arnie in this film because he is given precisely nothing to do, and whatever is left of his appeal as an action lead is suffocated under the blanket of relentless uniformity at the hands of Woods’ script. This leaves us with a leading man who cannot act or show his charm for the entirety of the picture, which is not what we want from a Schwarzenegger movie and there’s enough of those being released every year as it is without adding this once great action star to the pile. When you can’t distinguish a Schwarzenegger character from one played by Sam Worthington, you know the film is in serious trouble.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Sabotage is one of the worst action movies I’ve seen in some time and it marks the worst Schwarzenegger action film I’ve seen. Thanks for nothing Ayer and Woods.

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