Some of us including yours truly had hope at first, but let’s face facts, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film career is dead, done and over. I’m pretty sure that I am about one of 25 people in the entire country who actually went and saw this today. Oh well…I’ll enjoy these final breaths of life support before the greatest action star of all time inevitably bows out on a whimper.
The story, such as it is, centers on a crack team of DEA Agents lead by the Governator himself as John “Breacher” Wharton, and featuring the likes of GI:Joe rejects like Monster (Sam Worthington), Sugar (Terrence Howard), Neck (Josh Holloway), Grinder (Joe Manganiello), and Pyro (Max Martini) to name a few. At the get-go, we see these guys blowing through a drug cartel stronghold, and stealing some money from an absolutely massive pile, $10 million to be exact. After the team is put on trial for their actions, they begin to find each other turning up dead. Who is the one picking them off? Is it the cartel?…the DEA? ONE OF THEIR OWN?
Honestly, after a while it doesn’t even matter.
There is certainly a great deal of potential, and a few solid working parts here. Not the least of those is Mr Schwarzenegger, who convincingly steps into the role of the weathered team leader with a dark past. Naturally, he is still rather imposing, and kicks ass in the action sequences. He doesn’t have quite as much depth as the script requires, but I’ll be dammed if he doesn’t try to, and that’s appreciated.
There’s definitely an attempt to tell a story here. Writer/Director David Ayer of End of Watch, and Training Day fame weaves a fairly complex mystery here. A great deal of the film is spent with Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) as she investigates the murders and interacts with the various group members, and every so often, we get a solid moment of banter, or pathos with one of the characters. However, it’s evident right from the get-go that this isn’t completely Ayer’s show. The naturalistic, relatable characters of End of Watch are really nowhere to be found here, as Ayer battles co-writer Skip Woods, who is responsible for such duds as Hitman, and A Good Day to Die Hard, for whether the silly, convoluted plot, or the character moments take precedence.
Where Ayer really does get to shine is the action sequences. This movie is a kick-ass example of how directors should be handling action today. The camerawork is fluid and stylistic, but not at the expense of seeing what’s going on, the choreography of the team’s rigid movements through enemy territory feel authentic, and the gore is hard hitting, and done mostly practically from the looks of it. It is such a joy to see the return of actual blood squibs to movies like this, it gives the proceedings so much more weight then they would otherwise. Also, not to ruin anything, but the final sequence of this film is what the entire movie should have aspired to be, and is one of the most bad ass scenes Arnie has ever been involved in…a true testament to the few really solid moments this film does have.
Ultimately though, all of that hard work doesn’t matter that much, because I never cared for the majority of the main characters. Aside from Arnie, and Lizzie, the absolutely fierce and bad ass female member of the team portrayed wonderfully by Mireille Enos, they all feel like bland, stock characters. Even when the movie attempts to give them some depth, the lame duck performances from Worthington, Manganiello, and even Howard ensure that it does not sell.
While there certainly are enjoyable elements in this movie, it ultimately feels like a mess. Arnold really does deliver the goods, and the action scenes are wonderful, but it never engages enough on any other level to really warrant recommending. Even as a “turn your brain off” movie, it never really gels due to the misguided attempts at depth. With all that said, it’s definitely the best movie Schwarzenegger has starred in so far since his resurgence, sad as that may be.
Sorry Ayer, I’ll be rooting for you when I see ‘Fury’ later this year!