Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Arnold’s return to the big screen has not exactly being going smoothly. The end of his tenure as the governor of California was plagued by a sex scandal. Meanwhile, his cinematic endeavors have been met with audience indifference. Not many theater goers bothered with with the wooly, fun “The Last Stand,” though it’s already developed a cult following. “Escape Plan” also underperformed but, speaking strictly for myself, I thought it was surprisingly great. The third of Arnold’s comeback movies in two years was “Sabotage,” an extremely gritty crime thriller that also failed to connect with audiences. While I have reservations with the movie itself, it’s a very interesting choice for Schwarzenegger and shows that the aging action icon is willing to take risks in his old age.

The film follows a team of DEA Special Ops agents, expert drug busters and crime fighters, with nicknames like “Pyro,” “Grinder,” “Monster,” “Smoke,” and “Lizzy.” Led by John Wharton, nicknamed “Breacher,” the team decides to take a cut for themselves. While raiding the mansion of a drug lord, they make off with ten million dollars, at the price of one of their team member’s lives. A year later, after an extensive government investigation that nearly gets them all fired, something unexpected happens. Someone is killing off the different team members in especially gruesome ways. At first, a drug cartel takes the blame but soon, the gang begins to suspect each other. Breacher, teaming up with a female homicide detective, looks to get to the bottom of this. And how do the killings connect to the brutal murders of John’s family by the cartel years earlier?

“Sabotage” is the first of writer/director David Ayer’s films that I’ve seen. However, it would appear the guy is especially interested in stories of rough men working together on violent missions. The film focuses the manly bonding and petty bickering. (This probably makes him a good fit for the up-coming “Suicide Squad” movie.) “Sabotage” is pretty bro-tastic. From the beginning, the movie is full of colorfully profane language and heads exploding from high-powered rifle rounds. Each of the characters is introduced swearing, yelling, and killing. The scenes of the gang hanging out, training, playing video games, enjoying the sights of a strip club, or at a barbecue, are a bit hard to take. The characters are abrasive, to say the least. The macho posturing can be obnoxious but “Sabotage” quickly develops a theme. As suspicion rises among the team, they begin to turn on each other, proving there’s no honor among thieves. The reveal of the killer drives that point home even further. It’s a rough story but a valid one.

Maybe the reason “Sabotage” failed to connect with audiences, aside from its generic title, is that the trailers disguised the fact that the movie is as much murder mystery as gritty crime flick. The film was originally entitled the equally generic “Ten,” as in “Ten Little Indians.” The entire middle portion of the movie is devoted to unraveling who the killer is. Just as the action scenes are extra bloody and punishing, “Sabotage” piles on the gore during the murder scenes, pushing the movie to the edge of horror. A trailer, and its one resident, is left in the path of an on-coming train, an intense sequence. A body is found nailed to a ceiling, the guts trailing below, the floor covered in blood. A dismembered body is shoved in a fridge. More then the violence, the movie is a genuine whodunit. A lot of time is spent analyzing the evidence of the case, hairs and fingerprints left behind. The mystery involves in an natural way, drawing the viewer in.

To refer to “Sabotage” as an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is slightly misleading. It’s ultimately an ensemble film. The biggest problem the film has is that most of the ensemble isn’t very likable. These are unpleasant characters but you don’t much enjoy spending time with them. Sam Worthington is nearly unrecognizable, covered in tattoos with a long goatee, as “Monster.” Terence Howard plays a sleazier spin on his usual smooth demeanor as “Sugar.” Joe Manganiello is probably the most likable of the gang as “Grinder,” a huge guy frequently seen on a motorcycle. Despite his demeanor, he turns out to have the most scruples of anybody on the team. The most despicable of the lot is Mireille Enos as Lizzy, a nasty, mean-spirited person more then willing to manipulate everyone around her. Despite being part of a team, this is still Arnold’s show. He’s more angry then usual, frequently beaming from under a pair of bushy eyebrows. His older age is put to good use, as a man who has lost a lot. He has fantastic chemistry with Olivia Williams as the detective, who proves to be one of the most unexpected parts of the film. She’s fiery, funny, and likable, one of the best things about the movie.

To go along with its excessively gritty screenplay, “Sabotage” is also full of effectively intense action. Ayer’s direction is interesting. Some of his tricks are distracting. During one shoot-outs, he attaches the camera to the barrel of a gun as it goes off, which doesn’t entirely work. More effective are the various scenes of the team working together, entering buildings, sweeping corners, and blowing away enemies. This is best illustrated when the gangs go to town on a dirty apartment where a cartel is hanging out. Bullets rip through the wall and bodies are bloodily blasted back. In the last act, “Sabotage” really finds its groove with a fantastic chase sequence. A high-light of this is Arnold in the back of a pick-up truck, carrying a giant assault rifle, wrap-around sunglasses on his head. As he dives behind the cab of the truck, returning fire, it seems like the action icon has never lost a step. The chase scene also ends in a truly shocking, and thrilling, explosion of violence.

Probably the most interesting thing about “Sabotage” is that the entire plot about the money, who stole it, and why they want it, is a red herring. In the final minutes, the film reveals itself as being about something very different. Arnold’s character goes on a quest of personal vengeance, one that the film has been building towards the entire time. In this moment, “Sabotage” becomes a surprisingly powerful tale of loss and slowly boiling rage. It’s, in a way, Arnold’s version of “Unforgiven.” He plays a man who has lived his entire life in violence and now that’s the only way he knows how to solve his problems, even his emotional ones. The climatic shoot-out in a dive bar is as viscerally violent as the rest of the movie but the action seems imbued with new meaning. If the entire film had been about this, “Sabotage” probably would have earned a lot more attention.

As a movie-movie, “Sabotage” is probably only worth a half-hearted recommendation. It’s an uneven film, for sure, and it’s not exactly the most friendly watching experience. The movie’s overly self-confident macho bravado leaves the viewer with a hangover. It’s a pretty decent mystery and a better action film, so it earns props for that. As an Arnold movie, however, it’s a must-see. The aging action star pushes his typical persona into some new, fascinating territory, giving one of his best performances in years. [7/10]

[] Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm

So what's next for Arnold Schwarzenegger? His most recent release is "Maggie," a character-driven zombie film that is seemingly a departure for both the star and the undead genre. Mostly though, Arnold seems destined to return to previous dry wells. This summer, there's a new "Terminator," which is going to especially absurd heights to justify casting the 67 year old as an immortal robot. After that, Arnold has promised a new "Conan" adventure and even a sequel to "Twins." Whether or not those will provide the aging Austrian with a twilight years hit, or if they'll even be watchable, remains to be seen. Personally, even if he's not as buffed or spry as he used to be, I'm happy to have Arnold back. The world feels safer somehow.

Thus concludes SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS. It was a lot of fun and I'm already planning a follow-up project for later this summer. Until then, it's back to podcasts and Director Report Card, both of which will have me discussing Arnold again sooner rather then later, as well as other stuff. See you soon.

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