I owe Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cinematically speaking, he shaped part of my youth and set the gold standard for what male muscles should look like. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was my secret bible. For a while, I was deeply interested in guys who wore leather and rode Harley-Davidsons (preferably a Fat Boy, like Schwarzenegger rode in T2).

In my heart — despite the dud that was “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” his misguided career as The Governator, and a string of post-politics movies that range from mediocre to bad (please don’t mention “The Expendables,” ever) — I supported the man because, well, I was indebted.

And now, “Sabotage.” Schwarzenegger is trying something new here: He’s not playing a muscle-bound, good-hearted guy with a permanent Iron Curtain accent, but instead John “Breacher” Warton — a grizzly, unrepentant brute with a license to kill anyone as long as they deal drugs. Breacher heads the best, most ruthless unit in the Drug Enforcement Administration and, like their boss, these guys all have nicknames wedged between their first and last names, often representing a favorite weapon or style of killing. The more noteworthy ones include “Monster” (Sam Worthington), “Grinder” (Joe Manganiello) and “Sugar” (Terrence Howard); and then there’s the lone female, Lizzy (Mireille Enos), without a nickname, just because she’s special.

Director David Ayer
Run Time 109 minutes
Language English
Opens Nov. 7

David Ayer (“End of Watch”) is a director known for depicting darkness and corruption in the police ranks, and “Sabotage” is probably his bleakest film yet. For Schwarzenegger, it’s certainly one of his most violent. There’s an astounding amount of blood and gore strewn about, and many of the scenes call for temporary blindness or nerves of titanium.

The astonishing thing is that “Sabotage” is based on Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” Sure enough, Breacher’s unit is offed one by one in spectacularly brutal ways after it steals an illicit $10 million in cash following a bloody bust of a drug cartel.

The entire cast pull their weight, but Schwarzenegger is the one to watch here. For the first time in a long time he’s not duplicating his own action-star icon but portraying a desperate man with all the cards stacked against him. Breacher’s got two things going for him: his own vast experience and cooperation from Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams), a federal agent with a nose for betrayal.

It’s unfortunate the ending is rushed and too easy — it could have benefited from Breacher’s maxim: “Leave no loose ends.” As the story tumbles, clumsily and at full speed, toward a resolution, you can’t help but think that Ayer wasn’t really interested in solving the case. Perhaps the most important item on the agenda was showcasing a new, unexplored side of Schwarzenegger without caring much about the results. I will say this, though: The former action-stud has reached an age when he’s not afraid to look like sh-t. And act like it, too.

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