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‘Sabotage’: A brutal, bloody, gruesomely funny Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-’em-up

Joe Manganiello (from left)  Arnold Schwarzenegger Mireille Enos play members an elite DEA task force bloody sometime gruesomely funny

Joe Manganiello (from left), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mireille Enos play members of an elite DEA task force in the bloody, sometime gruesomely funny “Sabotage.” | OPEN ROAD FILMS

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‘SABOTAGE’ ★★★1⁄2

John “Breacher” Wharton Arnold Schwarzenegger

Caroline Brentwood Olivia Williams

Lizzy Murray Mireille Enos

James “Monster” Murray Sam Worthington

Open Road Films presents a film directed by David Ayer and written by Ayer and Skip Woods. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: April 29, 2014 6:15AM



If you arranged all the plot elements in “Sabotage” in linear fashion and started pinning photos to a bulletin board and then you added charts and diagrams connecting the carnage and identifying the culprits as they do in movies like, well, “Sabotage,” you’d be left scratching your head and realizing this is some bat-bleep crazy stuff, and not all of it can be explained.

Like how did that body wind up THERE, and why did THAT villain stuff that corpse THERE, and how in the world did that RV end up OVER THERE anyway?

But this brutal, bloody, dark and at times gruesomely funny thriller isn’t some David Fincher-esque mood piece where all the clues come together at the end. It’s more like a modern-day, Georgia version of a spaghetti Western, with the 66-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger actually donning a cowboy hat at one point to drive home the point.

Co-written and directed by David Ayer, who penned the script for “Training Day” and directed the criminally underseen L.A. cop film “End of Watch” (please add it to your queue now!), “Sabotage” stars Schwarzenegger as the head of an elite DEA task force populated by the wildest bunch of hard-partying, trash-talking sharpshooters and combat veterans ever hired by the federal government.

They’re all pretty much jerks, as evidenced by the neck tattoos, the fights in strip clubs, the constant crap they give one another and the way they mourn when one of their own has fallen. (It’s not much different from the way they party on any given night, only there’s one fewer of them around to do the tequila shots and knock out somebody’s teeth).

Everybody’s gotta have a nickname in a movie such as this, so here we go. Arnold is John “Breacher” Wharton. Sam Worthington is “Monster,” Joe Maganiello is “Grinder,” Josh Holloway is “Neck,” Terrence Howard is “Sugar,” Max Martini is “Pyro,” Kevin Vance is “Tripod” and Stockard Channing is “Rizzo.” Oh wait, different movie.

In a few cases we’re told where the nickname comes from. Often we’re not. We’re better off with the latter.

That’s a strong cast right there — and it gets even better when we mix in perhaps the two most intriguing characters (and performances) in the film: Mireille Enos plays Lizzy, an apparently sociopath with a hardcore drug habit, and oh by the way she’s a part of the DEA squad and she’s married to Monster, and Olivia Williams is Atlanta homicide investigator Caroline Brentwood, who is alternately appalled and fascinated by these maniacs from the DEA.

With a storyline that occasionally skips around in time (Ayer is particularly fond of taking us into a present-day crime scene and flashing back to a day or even hours earlier, when the blood started flowing), “Sabotage” is primarily focused on what happens to the agents after they steal $10 million from a drug cartel’s safe house — and somebody steals the $10 million from them.

Six months down the road, with an investigation into the missing $10 mil at a dead end, Breacher and the team are off the bench and back in the game — but in between bouts of knocking down doors and gunning down bad guys (it doesn’t seem as if this bunch spends a lot of time testifying in criminal trials), the hunters become the hunted.

One by one, the members of the crew are murdered, in ways so creatively bloody Hannibal Lecter would slow-clap his approval. I don’t think Ayer and the special effects and makeup wizards would be offended if I said this film is gratuitously violent and seems to savor gross-out moments guaranteed to make some viewers groan and then chuckle at the madness of it all. I think that’s sort of the point.

The Atlanta cops and Breacher believe members of the cartel are picking off Breacher’s crew. Investigator Brentwood tries to enlist the help of Breacher’s bosses, who couldn’t be less interested. (Arnold delivers the best line of the movie in another encounter with the same suits.) In addition to the fine work from Enos as the crazed Lilly and Williams as the alternately dedicated and ditzy Atlanta cop, Terrence Howard puts his usual unique spin on his character, Sam Worthington is the most human and vulnerable of the DEA crew, and Arnold is still Arnold, even with a ridiculous haircut and an accent that’s never explained. (Why bother? He’s Arnold. He’s playing a guy who’s a legend in the DEA. That’s enough.)

Here’s another thing I liked about this movie: When the law enforcement types and the bad guys are shooting it out on the streets, innocent people don’t always hop out of the way. Sometimes they become roadkill. Kudos to the filmmakers for acknowledging this is what most likely would happen if maniacs were racing down city streets while shooting high-powered automatic weapons at one another.

When we finally find out who’s the saboteur and why, it’s not the most satisfying conclusion ever, but it’ll do. Besides, Breacher’s still got some unfinished business after the main mystery, and he’s all about the TCB, baby. We still believe if Arnold against two dozen, it’s a fair fight.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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