After the underrated End of Watch, a film that paid much more than the usual amount of attention to the humanity of its cop heroes and pushed the camera into horror movie position by attaching it to the officers themselves, it wouldn’t have been wrong to expect writer-director David Ayers’ next project to keep advancing those agendas.
Except this one’s got Arnold Schwarzenegger in it.
Schwarzenegger’s not one of the film’s listed producers but it can be safely assumed that when you’ve got him, you do your best to keep him happy. He’s an old-fashioned action star and, now that his most indelible career moments and the Governorship of California are behind him, he doesn’t seem especially interested in anything but old-fashioned star vehicles. Here’s another one of those.
A gang of DEA officers, led by respected and troubled veteran John “Breacher” Wharton (Schwarzengger), raid a drug cartel’s mansion and squirrel away $10 million in the sewer before hiding their crime with explosives. Almost immediately the money goes missing and the entire crew is under investigation. Nobody cracks. Investigation closed. Then one by one they turn up dead. Has the cartel found them? Is the killer one of their own? Where’s the money? And why does Breacher obsessively study the videos that haunt his days, the ones depicting the cartel’s earlier torture and murder of his wife and child?
The crew is, to a person, a bunch of dirtbags, so it could be any of the colorfully (and inexplicably) nicknamed expendables: Maybe it’s Monster (Sam Worthington, going for a Colin Farrell-style character performance and mostly making it work). Maybe it’s Grinder (Joe Manganiello). Or Neck (Josh Holloway). Or Sugar (Terrence Howard). Or Pyro or Tripod (Max Martini, Kevin Vance). Who are these guys? “Who cares?” says the movie; they’re all going the way of a bunch of counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, so it just doesn’t matter. None are named Sneezy, by the way, but there is a Lizzy (Mireille Enos, happily gnawing on everything in sight), the lone female and loosest cannon of the bunch, a speed-addicted lunatic who, if she isn’t the culprit, spends her screen time dominating the men in a way that can only be very bad for her, comeuppance-wise, if she doesn’t prove to be the mastermind of every moment of this trash-humping heap.
Cool premise, though, yeah? Government agents eating their own, a mystery assassin in their midst – it should crackle with excitement and suspense, it should serpentine. But this trudge through wasted effort, one decorated with dark red squibs and cool gore makeup, a film more interested in making a mess than burning through the dark side of law enforcement, has more than one anchor weighing it down. With the exception of one GoPro camera moment, it lives in the visual world of any random episode of any random incarnation of CSI. Nothing innovative to see here, folks, move along.
Meanwhile, it appears that Schwarzenegger has checked out. He’s an immovable object in a film that struggles and fails to find the energy that will carry him along. Maybe, post-everything, he acts to keep his calendar filled. But he takes us all with him as the film ignores its ensemble and privileges his inertia, right down to the last laughably stoic moment, passing along his boredom to the audience. But there is blood and there are guns and there is his genre film legacy. And as far as he’s concerned, that’s enough for you. Keep falling for it. He will now enjoy a cigar at your expense.