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Sabotage
(1996)
 

Director: Tibor Takacs                          
Cast:
Mark Dacascos, Carrie Anne Moss, Tony Todd


Sabotage, am action thriller with a martial-arts actor in the lead, doesn't rely on martial arts that heavily. The climax doesn't even involve martial arts at all! The movie is an above average action thriller that doesn't rely on an action scene every ten minutes, instead using the time to also unravel a mystery and show us some interesting things. Maybe that's then why when the action scenes come, they pack more of a wallop. Though of course, it could also be because the action scenes are packed with bullets ripping through people and emitting huge explosions of blood and gore. Could the director have received an offer for a major discount on syrup and red food dye just before filming commenced?

The blood starts a-flyin' from the opening, where Bishop (Dacascos), a soldier in Bosnia, unsuccessfully tries to free some hostages, getting almost mortally wounded by a mysterious man named Sherwood (Todd), then seeing the hostages get machine-gunned before his blurring eyes. Flash forward to a few years later, when Bishop has just been hired to be a bodyguard for a millionaire, but on the first day of the job his client is murdered before his eyes in a "Whoa!" sequence. From a rooftop a mile away, Sherwood fires a bullet, and we see from the bullet's point of view its path to its victim. Then we see that the bullet has not only passed through its intended victim, but another man and an airplane behind it - all of this in one brief shot!

After Bishop unsuccessfully tries to get Sherwood, the FBI is called in. As you may expect in a movie like this, the hero is a prime suspect. And as you may expect, the main agent, Agent Castle (Moss), called in is a woman.  Of course, there is hostility between Castle and Bishop at first. Now you're probably thinking that they fall in love and there's a hot slow motion sex scene with a dumb pop song playing in the background. Actually, there isn't. One of the more interesting things about Sabotage is the relationship between the two leads. Their relationship evolves from hostility to mutual admiration and respect during the course of the movie - a more realistic evolution, I think. Also what's surprising is that they don't spend as much time together solving the mystery (and the inevitable FBI/CIA cover-up) together as you may think. Castle at first does the investigation by the book, while Bishop breaks the rules in his investigation. When they are together, they use what each has learned to help themselves, then the two of them together. Both leads do a good job with their characters. Praise must also be given to Tony Todd, who makes his villain character memorable. Gleeful, sadistic, and extremely smart, Sherwood is a great villain.

The movie does stop every so often to put the obligatory action scene in, but these scenes are well done and well integrated into the plot. Takacs uses the locations of the scenes - a tiny hotel room for a martial arts fight, a fight on a hockey rink - to great effect. The movie is well photographed and generally well edited, though the photography somewhat suffers from the constant overcast skies. Some more sensitive viewers may be upset by Takacs' constant use of splattery gun wounds, including a surprising number of gun shots to people's heads.

There are some neat incidental things thrown into the movie ever so often that might not do anything for the plot, but make the movie as a whole more colorful. We learn terminology like "idiot cut" (what you get when your eye was too close to the gun scope), and there's a clever killing by someone who is injected with poison when he clicks the top of a pen (I guess that's a literal "poison pen"!) My favorite scene was when Bishop in his hotel room made an intruder alarm with a lamp, so that anyone standing outside the door would unknowingly turn on the lamp inside. The director doesn't edit down this construction scene at all so we see it in its entirety, yet it's not boring at all. Now, I don't know if this contraption would actually work in real life, but it's a lot of fun all the same.

Sabotage works overall, but I do have one major objection that must be noted: the climax. I mentioned before that there weren't any martial arts in the climax, but that wasn't my concern, because the movie had been working well despite the lack of this. The objection that I have about the climax is that there's a key moment that isn't clearly shown. It's hard to discuss this without spoiling the movie, but I think I can reveal that if this moment had been properly shown, it would have been graphically violent. And knowing that, it becomes clear why this moment wasn't shown properly; the sequence would possibly have made the movie get an NC-17 rating. As a result, we have to determine what actually happened from clues (shattered glass, a swerving car) happening right after this vague moment. To further distance us, there's a shot afterwards of the scene from about 1/3 of a mile away. This is disorienting, and may lead viewers to feel confused and frustrated. I don't understand why the director didn't see this. My feeling is that if you can't properly show something in a movie, rewrite it to something you can show. Also, a movie should have a title that at least has some relation to the plot - there's no sabotage in Sabotage.


UPDATE: Marcus Johnson sent this in (Warning: contains spoilers):

"I'm a big fan of your website and have been reading it regularly for about two years now. In your review of Sabotage I know that you were irked by the climax not being shown properly. (just to make sure, I assume you are objecting to the fact that the bullet is seen breaking the glass of Sherwood's SUV but that his actual death isn't shown) In my ongoing quest to collect all of Mark Dacascos' movies on DVD, I recently picked up a copy of Sabotage from Denmark and after reading your review I was surprised to find that his death is actually shown in this version. There is a five second shot where you see his brains splattered on the windshield as his body slumps forward. I guess they must have cut that shot for North American release (it's pretty disgusting, the "brain" pieces actually drip down the windshield).  I've attached a picture of the shot for you. Keep up the good work!"

He's actually fine - it's just that the pizza he was taking home is now a mess


UPDATE 2:  Michael Prymula sent this in:

"Just saw Sabotage earlier today, and it was the North American R rated version, and I was very surprised to see that Sherwood's death scene was uncut, I'm not sure why, I'm guessing that it's only the Canadian version that was trimmed."

Check for availabiliy on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Drive, The Base, Timebomb

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