Director David Ayer has made two of the best films about the tough lives of cops — “Training Day” and “End of Watch” — but his streak ends with the very violent and interestingly cast but forgettable “Sabotage.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, still on his post-gubernatorial Hollywood comeback trail, is John “Breacher” Wharton, the leader of a tough-as-titanium, renegade undercover DEA team that includes guys with names like Monster (Sam Worthington, “Avatar”), Grinder (Joe Manganiello, “True Blood”), Neck (Josh Holloway, “Lost”), Sugar (Terrence Howard), and Pyro (Max Martini, “Revenge”), as well as a woman, Lizzy (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”), who’s just as brutish.
Their lives take a turn for the worse when, after skimming $10 million from a raid on a cartel, they start being picked off one by one, horror-movie style. To add insult to fatal injury, they don’t even have the money anymore. When they went back to where it was hidden, someone had beaten them to it. So they’re broke and in the crosshairs. Not a good place to be.
Enter Caroline (Olivia Williams, “An Education”) and Jackson (Harold Perrineau, “Sons of Anarchy”), two local homicide cops investigating who would want to kill Breacher’s buddies. Meanwhile, Breacher and his diminishing crew are on their own mission to find out who’s doing it.
Ayer creates an appealingly gritty style and there are some nice touches. A car chase through the streets of Atlanta is impressive, Enos displays a fiery intensity and Worthington — head shaved, braided goatee — is nearly unrecognizable.
But, unlike his past films in which it was easy to identify with the policemen’s travails, Ayer (who co-wrote the script with Skip Woods, “A Good Day to Die Hard”), doesn’t come up with characters to really care about. They’re all burly bravado with little depth or detail. Plus, it’s getting harder to believe Schwarzenegger, the 66-year-old former bodybuilder turned actor turned politician turned actor again, as a steely, invincible figure. Increasingly, he seems out of place with this persona.
Let’s hope this misstep doesn’t mean Ayer has no more compelling cop stories to tell.