Movie review: The Expendables

Oh, how I hoped “The Expendables” would be the cinematic realization of all my testosterone-filled, action-film fantasies, a movie that would serve as both an aggro homage to the legendary shoot-em-ups of the 1980s and a wink-wink, nudge-nudge realization of the excesses of the genre.

And while the elements are there to make a cult classic, it doesn’t quite stick, leaving the wistful feeling of “what if?” lodged in your brain after 90 minutes of mayhem. I realize this sounds like a funny thing to say when talking about a slightly above B-level action flick, but this was supposed to be the movie that gave us action junkies everything we wanted and more.

Instead, I found myself drifting back to “Rambo,” and how much better that movie was than this. Stallone lifted the template of “The Expendables” from that film, but “Rambo” is a dour, aggressive, brutal movie that shocked the hell out of myself and many others who weren’t expecting such a fierce film after that character had drifted into caricature.

Here, the film is filled with caricatures, and Stallone can’t decide if he wants to make a campy, lets-go-to-the-jungle-and-kick-ass flick or a meditative one on the toll of violence for these mercenaries in search of the next paycheck.

And so, we get a little of both: you have Mickey Rourke delivering an earnest monologue about saving his soul juxtaposed with a running series of gags about Jet Li’s height.

The plot, if you can call it that, revolves around our heroes (Stallone, Jason Statham, Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) taking on the mission of dethroning a crooked general and his U.S.-backed money man (Eric Roberts, appropriately slimy) on the supremely fake island nation of Vilena.

First, Barney (Stallone) and Christmas (Statham) stake out the island, where they are introduced to their contact, a comely lass (Giselle Itie) who catches Barney’s eye and also happens to be the general’s daughter. Barney and Christmas decide the mission is too risky, and have to survive a firefight to get off the island.

(You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the much-advertised cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis that set the plot in motion. That’s because these appearances are so negligible they could have easily been cut from the movie – doesn’t the Governator have a state to run?)

But there was something about the girl that Barney just can’t shake, and after hearing the Tool (Rourke) bare his soul about lost opportunity, he decides to go back to Vilena on his own to rescue the girl. Of course, the other Expendables wouldn’t think about letting Barney go solo, and just like that, the guys are on Vilena ready to kick ass.

Where’s the training montage? The meet-up scene? The dramatic speech? The swelling music? So many things feel absent from the action-movie template that I have to assume the the film was hacked up in the editing bay.

Now, Stallone knows his way around an action scene, so it’s no surprise that when the Expendables reach the island, there’s a goodly amount of shooting, explosions, blood, kicks, bodyslams, decapitations and all other manner of physical assaults. (Terry Crews steals several scenes with his weapon of mass destruction.)

Some of this is great, but a large majority of it is intercut so quickly you can’t figure out who’s fighting who – it almost feels blurry, it was happening so fast. And don’t get me started on the digital blood – if you can’t do a stunt with squibs and latex, don’t even bother.

Stallone knows we want to see some of these legends (I cringe a little calling someone like Steve Austin or Randy Couture a legend in the film sense, but that’s nitpicking) throw down, and he gives us a couple of good fights, including Statham and Li doing a double-team on the underrated Gary Daniels that ends with a vicious finishing move.

(Allegedly, Daniels’ role was the one that Stallone wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme to play. Apparently JCVD did not want to lose a fight to Li, but turning down a return to the big screen seems incredibly short-sighted for the ol’ patron saint.)

The mission turns out to be surprisingly easy – I mean, not one of the Expendables dies or even takes a bullet to my knowledge. How can you have an action ensemble and not have one man go down, so the rest of the team can get fired up and dispatch revenge?

The film ends with the guys just all hanging around, shooting the shit, like nothing really happened, setting the stage for The Expendables 2. I hope the success of this film allows that to happen, and I hope Stallone goes back to the drawing board to make a more complete film, one that doesn’t feel quite so generic and haphazard. Because I want this to work.


~ by Elliott on August 20, 2010.

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