'Sabotage' suffers from a fetish for shocking gore

There is a moment in David Ayers’ moving police drama “End of Watch” when the two affable and dedicated LAPD officers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña discover a pile of dismembered bodies in a house. It is an uncharacteristically gruesome moment in a movie filled with rich characterization — and it was jarring to say the least.

I am particularly saddened to report then that with Ayers’ newest film “Sabotage,” it seems that the writer/director has given in completely to what can now only be described as a fetish for shocking gore. Let’s be clear: I’m all for a good amount of gore when it’s appropriate — last year’s “Evil Dead” remake for example was a joyfully gory thrill ride — but “Sabotage” is a repellent action movie with absolutely no point, and may be the most miserable time I’ve had in a movie theater in years.

The film opens with promise. Arnold Schwarzenegger leads a gung-ho team of DEA agents (including Sam Worthington, Terrance Howard and Mireille Enos) who infiltrate a drug cartel and raid a safe house. The shoot-out that ensues is violent for sure, but it's shot and edited with energy, and ends with one agent dead and the rest of the team hiding $2 million of the drug money they discover for themselves. But when they go back for it, it’s gone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeHpSdQSH0c

“Sabotage” is all downhill from there. There’s a ton of forced macho camaraderie among the team and a series of grisly murders that even Hannibal Lecter would find classless. Had there been any real development in any of the characters, perhaps it would have softened the blow of one of the most idiotic scripts in recent memory. Rewritten by Ayers from a screenplay by Skip Woods, “Sabotage” is nothing more than a revenge movie, and it’s a poor one at that, with a complete lack of compelling motivation and a contrived, roundabout scheme that rings hollow.

It’s up to the actors to breathe lives into their “characters” because there’s virtually nothing to distinguish any of them on the page. Josh Holloway is one of at least three team members who seem identical and just fade into the background, and as the only female of the group, Enos tries to make an impression, but in this all-dude tough-guy-athon, it's a tough sell. Even investigator Olivia Williams, struggling to push down her British accent with a vaguely Southern drawl, can’t just be a powerful woman — she has to break down and sleep with one of these super manly men.

My father once said to me that he couldn’t watch “The Sopranos” because he didn’t like any of the characters on the show. I told him that this was one of the things that made the show so fascinating. Besides getting a peek inside a world you’ll never see, “The Sopranos” goes deep into the hopes and fears of all its richly drawn characters. Who cares if they’re all a bunch of sexist murderers? Finding out what makes them tick and reveling in the absurdity of their lives was what made that show — with unlikable characters — so compelling.

This film has all of the sexist murderers and none of the compelling. The “mystery” at its core ends up being solved with a shrug, because the reveal is so unlikely and unsatisfying. Of course, there’s another gruesome death scene, and the film drags on for —wait for it — another gratuitous shootout where scores of Mexican drug dealers and hookers are killed with impunity.

“Sabotage” is a cynical piece of trash that thinks it's smarter than it is. It’s what happens when filmmakers mistake “violent” and “unlikable” as keywords for gritty adult entertainment. None of those traits matter if your movie is just plain stupid.

Kansas City FilmFest

The week-long Kansas City FilmFest returns on April 5 and is bringing an eclectic selection of indie heavy-hitters and animation to town, while also showcasing a ton of great local filmmaking talent. The Oscar-nominated animated feature “Ernest and Celestine” is kicking off the animation portion of this annual event with a free family screening Sunday April 6 at the Truman Auditorium at the KC Plaza.

Things get more adult-oriented later in the week as animation legend Ralph Bakshi is spotlighted. In addition to showing his 1970s cult classics “Wizards” and “Heavy Traffic,” Bakshi himself will be streamed in via the Internet for a live video Q&A following “Coonskin,” his most controversial film, on April 12 at the Alamo Drafthouse. Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton will appear live in person the same day to hold an “Animation Master Class,” as well as premiere his newest hand-drawn feature film, called “Cheatin’.”

“Rich Hill,” recently picked up by PBS’ “Independent Lens” and the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at Sundance this year, screens Monday April 7. The film’s co-director Tracy Droz Tragos will hold a Q&A and panel discussion following the movie, which follows the lives of three poverty-stricken teens growing up in Rich Hill, Missouri.

The Cinemark Palace on the Plaza is hosting locally produced feature films such as Blake Robbins’ “The Sublime and the Beautiful” and Bryce Young’s “Withered World,” as well as a full selection of Heartland Narrative Shorts and Kansas City Stories. High profile indie and foreign releases include the feature “Wadjda,” about a girl struggling with strict cultural mores in modern Saudi Arabia and the not-quite-apocalypse horror comedy “Doomsdays.” For more information, visit http://kcfilmfest.org/.

Show Me Justice Film Festival

From April 10 – 12 on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, the fourth annual Show Me Justice Film Festival spotlights new films that bring awareness to important social issues. “Fire in the Blood,” narrated by William Hurt, opens the festival by telling the relatively unknown story of activists trying to get low-cost AIDS drugs to Africa. “Rags and Tatters” is a fictional narrative from filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla about a man freed by the Egyptian revolution after 25 years of incarceration and his journey to reconnect with friends and family. 28 films will be screened over the weekend, including many shorts—some in competition—and KU Assistant Professor Kevin Willmott’s feature “Destination: Planet Negro.”

“All of these films are great examples of social justice filmmaking—and they bridge the expanse of low budget to might budget films,” says festival director Mark von Schlemmer. “The idea is to share films about important subjects that are made creatively that audiences may not get a chance to see anywhere else.”

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