Tag Archives: D-

SABOTAGE

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Those who go to “Sabotage” expecting an enjoyably old-fashioned Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle will be very unpleasantly surprised, though the fact that it was co-written and directed by David Ayer (who wrote “Training Day” and both wrote and directed “End of Watch”) should serve as a forewarning. Like his previous pictures this is a grim, blood-soaked, very ugly exercise in mayhem and macho action, in which the Governator broods sullenly throughout. It’s one of those movies you come out of feeling the need for a shower—and not because you’ve been sweating with excitement.

Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of a DEA Special Ops team composed of agents so buffed up and grubby looking that they can go undercover on the seamiest missions. Among the crew are James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wacked-out, spitfire wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos); Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello); Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway); Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard); Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini); Bryce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance); and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel). The lucky ones in this collection are Enos, the only woman, Howard, the sole African-American, and Worthington, who gets to sport a goatee that at least distinguishes him from the other guys, who all seem pretty interchangeable in their hard-ass biker gear. But on the other hand it’s doubtful one would particularly want to be recognizable in this context.

Anyway, we don’t get to know Jennings at all because he’s literally smoked in the opening sequence, a bloody incursion into a cartel-controlled mansion that the team uses as a diversion for them to swipe a sizable portion of the cash on hand even as their boss Demel (Martin Donovan) watches from afar before blowing up the remainder to conceal the theft. That prologue introduces what become Ayer’s motifs for the rest of the picture. First, there’s lots of explicit violence and gore. Second, there’s an abundance of scatological humor, from constant would-be jokes about flatulence and body parts to an extended bit of business involving a toilet overflowing with excrement that he and cinematographer Bruce McCleery push into our faces repeatedly. These become the two refrains that punctuate the picture, but Ayer refines them as he proceeds, showing a particular fondness for torture scenes (Wharton’s wife and son were abducted and brutally murdered by Mexican drug lords, who were kind enough to film the procedure for his obsessive viewing), blood-splattered corpses (sometimes in CSI examining rooms) and close-range shootings, most of them directly to the head. A scene toward the close in which a body has been put in deep freeze is particularly vile.

The team’s elaborate theft comes to naught, anyway, because when they go to retrieve the loot from the sewer where they’d stashed it (an ironically appropriate venue), it’s gone. The DEA suspects them of being dirty but can’t prove it (we get lots of dumb interrogation scenes), and must put them back on the street. And the cartel doesn’t much care whether they have the dough or not—the fact that they stole it is quite enough—and sends out a squad of hit men to knock them all off, one by one. We get to witness three of the assassinations in grisly detail, lucky us.

By now a cute but determined Atlanta police detective, Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams), and her partner Jackson (Harold Perrineau) are on the case, and almost before you know it, she and Wharton are—quite implausibly—getting romantically involved. What follows is an increasingly twisty, but persistently brutal and overwrought, plot that casts suspicion not only on the cartel hit squad but on members of the team itself. A car chase and an old West-style shootout bring things to a conclusion smeared with blood and awash in dead bodies.

“Sabotage”—like Ayer’s previous film—is a grotesquely nasty piece of work that’s meant to provide exhilaratingly over-the-top action but ends up a rancid, nihilistic wallow in cynicism and gore. Schwarzenegger is apparently trying to act the part of a damaged man on a mission, but his performance basically consists of little more than generic sullenness and the ability to chomp on an apparently inexhaustible supply of cigars. Most of other actors in his team are wasted (especially Howard, who’s capable of good work), but Enos certainly takes scenery-chewing honors. Williams, on the other hand, brings a nicely starched dignity to her role, and Perrineau is genial and loose. Of course as mere cops they’re always several steps behind the curve, but the audience is meant to be, too. (We’re not.) On the technical side the picture isn’t much, either, though admittedly Ayer, McCleery and editor Dody Dorn wring some visceral tension out of sequences like one in which the crew invade an apartment building to capture—or preferably kill—the assassins who are out to get them. But it’s nothing we haven’t seen done better before.

Even the title is off. Who’s the saboteur and what does he sabotage? One presumes the authors just needed a catchy one-word moniker that would promise something dark and nefarious. If so, they’ve succeeded in a certain sense, because this movie is very dark indeed, and nefarious in claiming to be entertainment when it offers none.

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

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Brawny Greek hero Hercules might be a remarkably powerful fellow in legend, but he’s never shown much cinematic punch in the movies. First came the amusingly awful Italian pseudo-epics with Steve Reeves in the late fifties and early sixties, followed—after dozens of appearances in schlocky beefcake Euro-cheapies in their aftermath—by the even worse Lou Ferrigno embarrassments of the 1980s. And that’s not even counting the unintentionally hilarious “Hercules in New York” of 1970, in which the young Arnold Schwarzenegger (billed as Arnold Strong) was actually outacted by Arnold Stang. True, the animated Disney musical of 1997 had some charm, and the Kevin Sorbo TV series had its moments, but both of them gave the poor guy a tongue-in-cheek twist.

Not so “The Legend of Hercules,” in which hunky Kellan Lutz, of the “Twilight” series, dons the muscular Hellene’s sandals. An “origins” tale that owes less to classical mythology than to current comic book and super-hero conventions and played with an earnestness that’s positively deadly, this unholy mash-up of “300” and “Gladiator” manages to include only one of Hercules’ famous labors—the duel with the Nemean lion, and that as a throwaway—but seems to drag on for an eternity.

The one aspect of the ancient mythology that the script retains is that Hercules is the son of Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) by the god Zeus. But from there on all is cobbled together from other sources. His birth infuriates Alcmene’s husband King Amphitryon of Tiryns (Scott Adkins), a brutal tyrant who’s first shown conquering Argos by defeating its ruler in single combat. The king passes on his hatred of the boy, who’s named Alcides, to his older son, the cruel and cowardly Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), for whom Amphitryon arranges a marriage with Princess Hebe of Crete (Gaia Weiss) despite the fact that Hercules loves her—a passion she reciprocates.

To get rid of the unwanted Alcides, Amphitryon sends him, along with general Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) and a battalion of men, to Egypt, where an ambush awaits that’s supposed to kill him but instead wipes out rest of the company while leaving the two of them alive. They find themselves enslaved as gladiators, first in literally underground games in Egypt and then in Sicily (which, in fact, would not historically be colonized by Greeks until nearly half a millennium after 1200BC, when this story is supposedly set) before they’re brought back to Greece. There Hercules wins his freedom by defeating the six greatest champions from the entire peninsula in one fell swoop. Then he undertakes a rebellion against Amphitryon which, incidentally, will also free Hebe from imminent marriage to Iphicles. His victory ultimately depends on his willingness to finally accept Zeus as his father—as well as daddy’s lightning power added to his sword, which will allow him to vanquish an entire army with some supposedly cool CGI sparkly effects.

All this silliness is presented by director Renny Harlin, in yet another step along his career decline, with a distinct lack of panache but lots of intrusive slow-motion and freeze-frames in the frequent action sequences. It certainly doesn’t help that absolutely none of the picture’s physical backdrop looks remotely real; everything—mountains, buildings, interiors—is CGI-based, so that the film resembles a succession of painted cartoon panels, though ones poorly rendered by the dimming effect of 3D. The actors are authentic human beings implanted in the settings via green screen technology, of course, but it’s hard to tell that from the performances, which with one exception—McIntyre, who actually brings some emotional shading to Sotiris—are uniformly terrible, though in different ways. On the one hand are Lutz and Weiss, whose clumsy poses turn them into expressionless marionettes and whose delivery of the puerile dialogue is hilariously flat (Weiss in particular sounds badly dubbed). At the other extreme are Adkins and Garrigan, who chew the phony-looking scenery so strenuously that they come across like silent-movie villains. Then there’s Rade Serbedzija, who lurks about as aged royal advisor Chiron and mumbles his dialogue in an accent so thick that it makes Lutz sound almost normal.

It’s difficult to assess the contributions of the technical crew in a picture like this, which depends so heavily on the effects team. Suffice it to say that cinematographer Sam McCurdy, though hobbled by a 3D process that might allow projectiles to be hurled at the audience but darkens and smudges the images , seems to have done a reasonably good job, and Sonoo Mishra’s costumes only occasionally appear ridiculous. The score by Tuomas Kantelinen is predictably thunderous but forgettable.

Hercules will get another chance to shine on screen later this year when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays him in Brett Ratner’s big-budget take on the character. MGM and Paramount, however, have every right to be concerned that this stinker might doom any hope for a franchise before their picture arrives in mid-summer.