A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2010
2010, R, 113 mins.
2010, R, 113 mins.
Sylvester Stallone: Barney Ross / Jason Statham: Lee Christmas
/ Jet Li: Yin Yang / Dolph Lundgren: Gunner Jensen / Eric
Roberts: James Munroe / Randy Couture: Toll Road / Steve
Austin: Paine /David Zayas: Gen. Garza / Terry Crews: Hale
Caesar / Mickey Rourke: Tool
The final thirty or so minutes of Sylvester Stallone’s THE EXPENDABLES positively delivers on all its intended pulse pounding, rip roaring, bullets blazing, explosion heavy, blood curdling, and limbs-a-flying glory.
this ear-piercingly and eye-gougingly heavy climax of wanton, barbaric
excess, Stallone and his mercenary right hand man (played by Jason
Statham) lead a testosterone-hulked out group of
weapon-adorned soldiers on an wide-scale assault on the island fortress of
a vile and deplorable general. Whereas
the A-Team, for instance, always had a proverbial “plan”, these
hard-assed grunts have one simple objective: to shoot, stab, punch, kick,
slice, impale, behead, torch, and blow up as many targets as they can
possible get within their crosshairs.
Make no mistake about, the final moments of THE EXPENDABLES leaves
fanboys of late 80’s and early 90’s-centric action vehicles in a state
of giddy nirvana.
of the rest of the film building up to that exhilarating climax lacks the
same level of fever pitched intensity and shameless, gung-ho
long-gestating and fanatically anticipated tribute to the intellectually
vacant, human life wasting, and pro-gore action blockbusters of 25 years
ago features a relative who’s who of A and B-grade screen heroes of
yesteryear and today. Just look at this roster:
Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy
Couture, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and…yes…blink-or-you’ll-miss
‘em cameos (more on that in a bit) by Bruce Willis and the current
Governator of California. There
is absolutely no doubt that Stallone’s tough-talking, muscle bound killing machine
dream team here is enough
alone to wet the appetites of diehard fans of the action genre.
It’s is an unmitigated hoot to see these walking and talking
action figures gather and click on screen together to collective kill as
many baddies as possible. On
those primal levels, THE EXPENDABLES is an unqualified triumph.
I have to say this…why does the first three-quarters of this film feel
tedious, rudimentary, uninspired, and forgetably derivative? Yes, Stallone’s assignment here was to gather his beefcake
army of macho-men killers to elicit nostalgic memories of the unhealthily
gruesome, old school action romps that we all lovingly remember despite
their relative low health value. Fine.
I get that. But, if
you are going to the trouble of amassing all of these icons of the genre
wouldn’t it be a good idea to give them a story to play within that does
not just prosaically spin its tires from one perfunctory beat to the
next? Nothing truly memorable
happens throughout THE EXPENDABLES and, even worse, the film never
truly harnesses the sheer stupidity and goofball fun of the past films its
trying to duplicate. THE
EXPENDABLES is too often as serious as cancer when it should have be
dumber than a bag of hammers.
plays Barney Ross, the leader of a group of mercenaries that could aptly
be described as a half-sized DIRTY DOZEN.
His right hand man is Lee Christmas (Statham) who has an incredible
affinity with sharp instruments of death in all shapes and sizes.
Under them is Ying Yang (Jet Li) who is a martial arts dynamo
despite having some real self-esteem issues about his pint-size.
Then there is Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) who has a childlike
obsession with guns…really, really big guns...that shoot rounds that can
destroy watch towers. Toll
Road (Randy Couture) is tough and granite jawed, but sensitive because
of his recent therapy sessions. Finally,
there is Gunner Jensen (Lundgren) that is a giant and nasty mountain of a
man that has trouble curtailing his instincts to...well...kill.
hooks up with an old war buddy, Tool (Mickey Rourke) whose tattoo
parlor is essentially the HQ for the commandoes.
It is through Tool that Barney has a meeting with their next client, Mr. Church
(Willis). He hires Ross to go
to a Central American locale to kill a brutal dictator, General
Garza (David Zayas) and a ex-CIA stooge now drug runner named James Munroe (Eric
Roberts), who in turn has a nefarious bodyguard appropriately named Paine (Steve
Austin). Ross and his partners are offered $5 million up front to
finish the job, but after a recon mission ends with unintended results,
Ross and company leave the country. However,
the Expendables leader has a connection with Garza’s daughter (the
beautiful Giselle Itie) and ultimately decides that he will return to
assist her with eliminating corruption in her home country, fee or no fee.
overall story for THE EXPENDABLES is on auto-pilot and the characters
contained within – despite the actors' camaraderie together – are
cardboard cut-out types and not fully realized personalities.
Perhaps this could have been due to the sheer number of actors in
the film, but I really wished that Stallone gave all of these actors
something to do in the film instead of just strutting around, posing, and
speaking cookie-cutter dialogue. The
villains in particular are lame and weakly realized (drug dealers and Central
American generals…been there, done that), even though it is
kind of enjoyable to see Roberts play such an odious slimeball with a teeth-clenched flare.
main anti-hero leader of the film is disapprovingly bland and
indistinctive, mostly because Stallone – a very charming and charismatic
screen presence when compelled to be – plays Ross with a flat, monotone,
and expressiveless timbre. Also,
the film does not do a very good job of explaining his motives for
continuing on with his mission back in Central America.
He has an attraction to the General’s daughter, even though it does not
appear sexual or romantic, but he nonetheless feels compelled to go back
into the gates of hell because…he just respects her determination to
lead her people. Uh…nope.
Not buying that.
kind of know you're in trouble when you are the writer/director/star of
an action film and you are outclassed on the performance front by Dolph
Lundgren, who actually shows more colorfully rugged magnetism and cocky
bravado than Stallone, his fellow ROCKY IV co-star from 25 years ago. Statham
is also solid as his knife-wielding grunt, although he occupies a
completely unnecessary subplot with Charisma Carpenter on the domestic
front that is as tacked on as it gets.
The real standout here is definitely Mickey Rourke, who occupies
the only superbly introspective and moving moment in the film when his
character – in one long held close-up – delivers a monologue about his
tour of duty in Bosnia and how it changed him forever.
Rourke is as convincing and commanding of an actor as they come,
and this scene is indeed stellar, but it almost felt like it was dropped
in from a whole different movie altogether.
we also have the titanic meeting of the action gods early in the film with
a three-way verbal standoff between Stallone, Willis, and Arnold
Schwarzenegger (marking his first screen appearance since AROUND
THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS).
This is the first time that all of these screen icons have "played" a
scene together, but let’s face it, the way it's presented makes it feel
like a disingenuous rip-off. Stallone
aggravatingly shoots the entire scene with tight close ups of the actors,
cutting back and forth, without so much as a few long shots to show the
men sharing the screen together. When
there are a couple of medium shots of Arnold and Sly on screen it looks
suspiciously phony, like it was sandwiched together in
post-production. You rarely gain an impression that the three
performers were even on the same set for the production.
The sequence – which should have had the audience’s juices
really flowing – is an amateurish hatchet job that could have been
easily excised form the film completely.
rest of Stallone’s direction is inconsistent at best. I liked the relatively clarity and energy that he brought to
the brain matter-spattered action scenes in the underrated RAMBO sequel from a few
years ago, but here in THE EXPENDABLES Stallone perhaps utilizes too much
queasy-cam moves and cringing, whiplash-infused editing to suggest
action and tension whereas a less-is-more and stable approach would have done a better job of just
showing the spectacle.
For as disposable and low-rent as the action films that Stallone is trying to pay reverence to here, I fondly remember all of them for
at least having visual coherence.
THE EXPENDABLES is going to be critic-proof for the legions of Stallone and action junkie fundamentalists. I will go as far as saying that the novelty of seeing these movie giants laying waste together is a scatter-brained thrill and the aforementioned climax of the $82 million production is sufficiently awesome for its satisfying and politically incorrect butchery and carnage. Unfortunately, Stallone never lets the film exultantly soar above the level of its novelty and direct-to-DVD-video worth. What emerges here is basically a curiosity piece, a squandered opportunity, and a dime-a-dozen, painfully ordinary, and expendable action vehicle that lacks innovation and spirit. I was left thinking more about what could have been with all of these cherished screen stars if perhaps someone else other than Stallone served as writer/director.
Hmmmmm....just imagine THE EXPENDABLES with a Quentin Tarantino rewrite. Now how super sweet would that have been?