If there's one consistent thread running through this blog, it is that I love Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger. A lot.
I've written quite a bit about how it's a tumultuous time to be an Arnie fan, considering he's yet to experience a bonafide success in the post-politics part of his film career.
Seeing him play second banana to Sly Stallone in The Expendables series is tough, but the sad fact is, the Expendables "movies" (they're more liked scripted personal appearances) have marked the only times Arnie's glorious visage has seen the inside of a theatre in this country since 2003's Terminator: Rise of the Machines (I don't count 'digital' Arnie from Terminator: Salvation).
There were originally plans for his latest film, Sabotage, to get a cinematic release in New Zealand, but as was in the case with 2013's The Last Stand, which featured Arnie's first post-politics leading role, Sabotage's lack of success at the American box office sealed its fate as a straight-to-DVD premiere here, and it was released last week.
Unlike The Last Stand, which is frankly awesome and essential viewing for any proper Arnie fan, Sabotage deserves its undignified position alongside other direct-to-DVD movies starring whoever the contemporary equivalent of Don 'The Dragon' Wilson is.
I go into any Arnie movie very much wanting to like it - my blind devotion was such that I even thought his last film, Escape Plan (also a DVD premiere) could work. As anyone who's seen it knows, it did not.
Sabotage, however, exhibited some genuine potential. The cast was dense, and heavy: Sam Worthington (Avatar), Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Mireille Enos (World War Z), Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) and Josh Holloway aka that incorrigable scoundrel Sawyer from Lost.
Somehow I managed to ignore the alarm bells that rang when the first image of Worthington looking ridiculous appeared.
What really caught my attention ahead of time though was talk that the film was taking inspiration from Agatha Christie, specifically the classic whodunnit structure of her oft-adapted novel And Then There Were None, wherein a cast of equally-suspicious characters trapped together in a certain location are picked off one by one as the audience tries to guess who the killer is. It's a model innumerable films have utilised, including 2003's Identity and Renny Harlin's 2004 film Mindhunters, both of which are highly entertaining.
Even Sly Stallone had a go at it with surprisingly un-terrible D-Tox back in 2002. The 2009 mini-series Harper's Island was an amusing longform spin on the idea.
Anyway, clearly being a sucker for this gimmick, I was looking forward to seeing it play out, Schwarzenegger-style in Sabotage.
New interpretations of the model are appealing in principle, but Sabotage's first mistake was ditching the critical "trapped together in a certain location" aspect of the form and placing the mystery amongst a team of be-muscled wise-cracking DEA agents who are only forced to remain in close proximity with each other thanks to their shared interest in a pile of stolen drug money.
It totally takes the wind out of the inevitable murders knowing that any of the potential victims can just go home if they feel like it. In fact, there's very little elegance to the whodunnit aspect of the film at all - the clumsy, barely sensical manner in which the revelations play out suggests much editing room plot upheaval.
Arnold Schwarzenegger with Harrison Ford in The Expendables 3.
The action is nothing to write home about either - a big bunch of dudes busting into a drug house with big guns and shouting loudly is starting to feel pretty familiar, and Sabotage relies almost wholly on this sort of thing for its action value.
The rogue DEA agents themselves are just about the most rugged bunch of government agents in cinematic history. They come across like some kind of redneck rock star hit squad, and mostly seem ridiculous.
Arnie fails to command much authority as their leader. My inner 13-year-old got very excited when I heard he would be doing be a lot of cussing in this film, but even the sound of Mr. Schwarzennegger saying the F-word can't redeem this mess.
Now more than ever, I am understanding how critical a good director is to Arnie's performances. In The Last Stand, he clearly had the time and support to offer up a relatively nuanced performance. No such luck in pretty much everything else he's done in the last five years, including this film. I blame the directors - it's their job to draw the performance out of Arnold.
Sabotage was helmed by David Ayer, the Training Day screenwriter-turned-director of such quality films as Street Kings, End of Watch and the upcoming Brad Pitt World War II tank film Fury. He receives a screenplay credit on Sabotage along with Skip Woods, a screenwriter whose name and output are so generic I am convinced he is actually a screenwriting robot.
All aspects of Sabotage feel compromised - it's not able to fulfill any of its potential, and it reeks of last-minute tampering and second-guessing.
Arnie completists should see the film, but they should get ready to grit their teeth a bit - it's a misguided movie far beneath his considerable talents.
However honorable the original intentions to make a gritty twisty thriller may have been, any film that does not contort itself to fit around Schwarzennegger's unique presence is dooming itself. He doesn't sink into the roles he plays in his movies. He IS his movies.
Wide audience goodwill obviously remains for the Austrian Oak, but it just doesn't seem to be translating into significant box office dollars right now. With the (mostly) turdful films he is making nowadays, it's getting harder and harder to hold on to my childhood worship of the man, but my faith has weathered tougher storms than this.
The recently-wrapped (and infuriatingly-spelled) Terminator: Genisys will no doubt put many bums on seats, and I hold hope in my heart that the plans for Arnie to once again play Conan may yet come to fruition. I would also take a Commando sequel thank you.
Arnie fan? Seen Sabotage? Is Scott Adkins the modern Don 'The Dragon' Wilson? I think Adkins is better than that description suggests. Comment below!