‘Sabotage’ soaked in testosterone but smarter than it first seems

I’ve seen enough TV pharmaceutical commercials to diagnose symptoms when I see them. And I can confidently say that no one involved with “Sabotage” is suffering from “low T.”

This is a very high-testosterone movie. The female characters score especially strong on that scale.

In the early going, the hyperactive macho joshing and intense gun-fondling threaten to wreck “Sabotage” completely. But writer-director David Ayer builds something sneaky along the way, and the movie turns into a smarter action flick than it first seems.

The obnoxious idiots at the center of the action are, I’m sorry to say, on our side. Meet an elite DEA unit, led by grizzled veteran John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The lunatics in this merry band love shooting guns, drinking shots, and partying at strip clubs.

Schwarzenegger, looking calm and weathered, is in pretty impressive shape here. Ayer knows how to limit his dialogue and cut around the awkward moments in which Arnie attempts to act.

Meanwhile, his group is full of amped-up guys with names like Monster (“Avatar” man Sam Worthington), Sugar (Terrence Howard), and Grinder (Joe Manganiello). There’s also a Mrs. Monster, played with just-one-of-the-boys gusto by Mirielle Enos, from TV’s “The Killing.”

Their attempted theft of money belonging to a drug cartel sets up the rest of the story line. Somebody’s killing the DEA agents off, in unusually revolting ways.

Yes, this film has scenes of torture, evisceration and intense gore littered throughout. It’s nearly as bad as watching network TV crime shows.

“Sabotage” is almost single-handedly redeemed with the appearance of a Georgia cop, played by Olivia Williams. She is as tough as Big Arnie, and prone to striding through crime scenes while looking super-cool.

Brit actress Williams has had a low-simmer career, from “Rushmore” to “The Ghost Writer.” But her swaggering turn here suggests she could have an action-movie career if she wanted it, which she probably doesn’t.

Ayer has a way with street lingo (he did “Street Kings” and “End of Watch”), and his films have an authentically hard edge. “Sabotage” feels out of control, as though it were changing its mind about how it views its characters every few minutes.

But give this movie some credit for a few surprises and some nice flinty banter. Now please, everybody go and get in touch with their feminine side.

“Sabotage” (two and a half stars)

Arnold Schwarzenegger (in pretty good shape) leads a DEA squad of amped-up lunatics in a better-than-average action flick. Director David Ayer has a way with street lingo, and Olivia Williams is terrific as a super-cool Georgia cop who doesn’t care for the posturing of Big Arnie’s team.

Rating: R, for violence, nudity, language.

Opening: Friday at Alderwood Mall, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Thorton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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