"Sabotage" is an appropriate title for the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, since its many action and suspense elements are routinely undermined by a sloppy assemblage.
A hyperviolent tale from complicated-cop chronicler David Ayer ("Training Day," "End of Watch"), the film is about a renegade DEA task force whose members are mysteriously eliminated one by one in the wake of a botched cartel takedown. "Sabotage" was designed to give the grizzled ex-governor, playing the group's veteran leader, a shoot'em-up vehicle bolstered by Ayer's patented macho realism.
The two templates often make for a chaotic mismatch, however, with hackneyed trash-talking humor resting uneasily alongside the unrelentingly grim (Arnold's character's cartel-tortured family), while the handheld camera grittiness feels ill-conceived for a thin, obvious whodunit filled with luridly, lovingly filmed gore and over-the-top action.
All along, Arnold's team of undercover agents — an ongoing grunt-off led by Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway and a cackling, crazy-eyed Mireille Enos — come off less like hardened, chummy law enforcement vets than a central casting biker club with an operatic idea of scuzzball charm.
Arnold is more effortless at stogie-puffing alpha male virility, but he doesn't segue easily between the brash jokiness and street-cred darkness.
Ayer is on firmer ground with Olivia Williams, witty and flinty as the head investigator into the murders. She's an ideal audience surrogate when showing aggravation over the gang's patina of nastiness.
Artificially jacked up to feel like mean but serious fun, "Sabotage" mostly flings blood, vengeance, testosterone and clichés to the wall to see what sticks.
MPAA rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, sexuality, nudity and drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: In wide releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times