Wednesday night, March 19, 2014 was the Hollywood premiere of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-titled (working title: “Ten”), oft-rescheduled (opening dates ranged from January 2014; April 11th ; May 9th: to its current, March 28th), laboriously retooled (I know of three different endings having been shot!) new action film, Sabotage.
A normal Los Angles event except for one big difference; the perfectly improbable, highly unlikely, positively surreal fact that I was in attendance.
Improbable for the reason that I am not in show business (I teach dance); unlikely owing to the fact that, although a film fan, I have NEVER seen a single Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (I didn't even vote for him during his two terms as Governor!); surreal because, as guests of one of the film’s stars (UK actress Olivia Williams, showcasing her breathtaking range in making a HUGE leap from period costume dramas like Anna Karenina to play a tough-talking Georgian police investigator), my partner and I attended as members of her “entourage” and were afforded VIP seats to the movie premiere and admission to the after-party. Yes, the dance world hoi polloi and the aristocracy of action films rubbed designer elbows with that night. What a kick!
Sabotage, as reads the official synopsis, stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as head of an elite DEA task force that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. When the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they think their work is done – until, one-by-one, the team members mysteriously start to be eliminated. As the body count rises, everyone is a suspect. The premiere was held at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live (yes, that’s the complex’s unwieldy name), where many, if not all, of its theaters were taken over for the celebrity-attended red carpet event on one side, and a promotional advance screening on the other.
The red carpet was lined with one of those sponsor promo walls against which stars get to pose while simultaneously advertising Budweiser, and oversize Sabotage posters which afforded the screaming fans barricaded across the street a picket-fence glimpse of their favorite stars as they walked the press gauntlet. For those of us in attendance hoping to be spared the wall of puzzled stares, angry PR reps, and inevitable choruses of “Who’s that?” sure to greet any attempt to personally partake of the red carpet experience, there was a red carpet-adjacent walkway lined with smiling ushers ... in all, a far cheerier alternative to the bank of voracious-looking paparazzi.
Of the Sabotage team in attendance: Olivia Williams looked like a million (“It’s my job, darling!”) in an outfit cut so low that just keeping herself inside it for the evening was a special effect on par with any in the film; Arnold Schwarzenegger, dapper in grey, was well-nigh dwarfed by the towering Joe Manganiello (6' 5"); Sam Worthington (Wrath of Titans) was welcomely soft-spoken; and director David Ayer (End of Watch), appeared understandably anxious. The film was screened to considerable applause, frequent gasps, a few laughs (intentional), a leap out of the seat at one point, and the occasional shielded eyes (it’s pretty gory).
Post-screening talk about Sabotage centered on the film’s many changes (production was completed over a year ago, followed by much tinkering and many test screenings), deleted scenes (Arnold’s nude scene is MIA [perhaps for the best], as is a battle in a muddy lake between Schwarzenegger and Williams that took three days to shoot), and the re-shot ending. The final consensus was that the wait will be well worth it, and those looking for a tough and gritty action film will be more than pleased with what the Arnold Schwarzenegger/David Ayer collaboration has wrought.
The after party: a fun affair at the nearby Lucky Strike bowling alley where free booze, abundant eats, and thumping music accompanied not-wholly-unsuccessful attempts by yours truly to bowl in a suit. Olivia Williams left the party early, as she had to catch a 5 am flight to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she’s set to begin filming 13 episodes of the new TV show, Manhattan, a drama set against the backdrop of the creation of the first atomic bomb.
As for the experience of my first Hollywood premiere, I have to say that it was every bit as fun and glamorous as I always thought it would be.
But the one important thing I gleaned from my brief expedition into the land of the glitterati is that I will never again take seriously a celebrity bemoaning the burdens of fame. These people see the absolute best of humanity simply because they ARE famous! All evening long I was greeted by the smiling, gracious, and uncommonly courteous faces of individuals who otherwise, on a typical trip to the movies or night out at a club, could be counted on for rudeness, impatience, or indifference. Imagine: business proprietors and employees actually acting as if they are happy to see you! Free stuff being handed to you! A steady flow of drinks and food being served to you without having to ask! Strangers eyeing you with a pleasant, quizzical look that says: “Are you that guy I think you are, but I can’t tell because you might just look really bad in person?” I remember briefly wondering why everyone was addressing me in a foreign language … then it dawned on me that it had just been so long since I'd heard folks saying, “please,” “thank you” and “hello.”
1. I was surprised to discover the stars actually DO stay and watch the movie at a premiere! I'd always thought they did their promotional duty on the red carpet and then left soon afterward. Schwarzenegger said he’s seen Sabotage eight times!
2. It's weird being surrounded by so much pretty. Even in real life everyone looked gorgeous and burnished to a high gloss. It felt like being low resolution in a sea of Photoshopped HD.
3. Arnold's haircut in the movie: Moe of the Three Stooges. Joe Manganiello's haircut in the movie: Juliet Lewis, Oscar night, 1992.
4. Members of the special DEA task force in the movie go by nicknames like "Grinder", "Sugar", "Pyro" and "Tripod"...Maybe the "Sabotage" website could create a name generator that gives visitors to the site their own their own unique, tough guy handle. I think mine would be "Wheezer."
Oh, and as for the title of this post, it might be called misleading, but it isn't false. Michael Jackson, or, more accurately, his music, was indeed instrumental in getting me into the Sabotage premiere. For it was about six years ago when Olivia Williams and her husband, actor Rhashan Stone, first took my old-school funk dance class (see if you can spot Williams in the clip) – a class that just happened on that day to be devoted entirely to Michael Jackson. Both being huge Jackson fans, they soon after became class regulars, then friends, ultimately resulting in my being graciously invited to dress uncomfortably and attend my first movie premiere in style. So, thank you Olivia Williams, and thank you, Michael Jackson.
Sabotage opens at theaters March 28, 2014. And in my humble opinion (a guy who's never seen a Schwarzenegger film and is not overly-enamored of the action genre) it's a hell of a thrill ride and should be a huge hit. I'd highly recommend it!