Sylvester Stallone continues his cinematic time travels to the 70’s and 80’s with The Expendables, a film that you can basically call the Ocean’s Eleven of action movies. You know, the kind of cinematic spectaculars overflowing with testosterone and never ending explosions? After revisiting his iconic characters of the past (Rocky Balboa and John Rambo), Stallone stars and directs this film which is a combination of The Dirty Dozen with a little of The Delta Force thrown in for good measure. The morally conflicted heroes or superheroes currently dominating cinemas today are nowhere to be found in this movie as its mission is to simply give the audience an action packed time with the good guys defeating the bad guys. All this is done with an all star cast featuring actors you never would have expected to see on the big screen.
The plot, like the action movies of the past, is paper thin to where you start to wonder if The Expendables really has one at all. It involves a team of mercenaries led by Stallone’s character of Barney Ross who gets his team together for a mission which involves overthrowing a brutal dictator (is there any other kind?) in South America named General Garza. However, things get complicated as they always do when the team discovers that Garza is in co-hoots with an ex-CIA agent named James Munroe, and that he keeps Garza on a tight leash while controlling the drug trafficking that is the island’s biggest business. They soon realize that this was all a set up by the CIA to take out both Garza and Munroe as the agency wouldn’t be able to do it without serious consequences. Hence the title of the movie; these guys are the best at what they do, and they have no connections that could tie them to senior military officials. They get killed off, and the CIA can comfortably deny their involvement.
Stallone makes it clear that he runs the whole show here as he is said to control every aspect of the movies he is in (regardless of whether he is directing or not). Sly has been dealt so many career setbacks just like John Travolta that it’s truly astonishing that he is doing any films these days not going straight to DVD (anyone remember Eye See You?). We thought that Daylight and his race car epic Driven would be the final nails in his big screen career, but new generations keep getting the chance to discover those movies that made him a star, and he’s still quite the box office draw overseas. The Expendables is not necessarily going to be remembered for his performance which is adequate for this kind of picture, but it is nice to see him let loose after the intensity of his last two movies (especially Rambo).
Jason Statham co-stars as Ross’ right hand man Lee Christmas, and he gets to kick ass without having to look all prim and proper like he did in those Transporter movies. You can always expect Statham to be fast on his feet and super quick with a blade, but if only he could work out his relationship with that woman he left behind… Statham is one of best actors in The Expendables, and that’s even if he’s doing the same shtick he does in every other movie of his. Holding his own throughout the testosterone driven sequences against established stars, he is the one to have on your side if your boyfriend is foolish enough to hit you in the face. I still say that The Bank Job should have made him a star.
You also got Jet Li who comes off better here than he did in The Forbidden Kingdom all while being the butt of jokes over his diminutive height. This is of course all a setup for all the ass kicking we know he’ll be doing later on. Former NFL player Terry Crews sports a big ego that is soon outdone by his massive automatic shotgun (no, it’s not a semiautomatic, trust me). That bad boy (the gun I mean) results in some of the more graphic moments that will have the audience going:
Dolph Lundgren temporarily escapes his direct to DVD career, and he’s still a massive giant of man. But I have to be honest and say that the man can’t act. Dolph still comes across as a formidable opponent, but he isn’t winning any Oscars come next year. All the same, at least he doesn’t go away in pieces…
In regards to the bad guys, they are led by Eric Roberts whose character feels a bit like the one he played in The Dark Knight. While he may not have fully escaped the stigma he brought on himself with his unforgettable role in Star 80 as Paul Snyder, Eric still creates slimy villains like very few others today. Even if his character may seem one-dimensional on the page, he still gives us a charismatic villain who we quickly love to hate. His name should have been on the posters along with all the other big stars.
The brutal dictator is the typical kind you find in movies like this, and David Zayas does good work here even while he only as so much to work with. Some of you may remember Zayas’ work as the Latino gang leader Enrique Morales from HBO’s prison drama OZ, and I kind of wish that Stallone allowed Zayas to bring a lot of that same energy to this character. Watching him on OZ was electric because he could come across as quite frightening without having to raise his voice any, and I was hoping he could have had more of that similar effect here.
As for the villains’ henchmen, you got Steve Austin and Gary Daniels. Steve Austin is especially brutal in this movie, throwing Stallone all over the place like he was a paper towel. Austin ends up laying a beating into Stallone so nasty that it instantly reminded me of how Sly broke his neck during shooting. Heck, the scene where that occurred may have made it to the final cut. Certainly takes you out of the movie for a second…
And let us not forget the scene where the original trio of Planet Hollywood comes together in a manner that we know won’t involve bankrupt restaurant chains. Seeing Stallone onscreen with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger feels long overdo, and if nothing else, it shows that Arnold has a pretty good sense of humor about himself. You’ll see why when he’s walking out of the church they meet in and Willis explains to Stallone why Arnold is pissed.
Overall, The Expendables is a fun time at the movies, but you come out of it with the feeling that it could have been better. It is also a victim to that Jason Bourne like editing style where the camera is all over the place and the editing is so lightning quick that you can’t always tell what’s going on. I am finally beginning to tire of this kind of filming mainly because I am quickly reminded of the trilogy of films where it was best used.
There are a number of cool action sequences though where the adrenaline really kicks in, and bodies of all kinds get eviscerated in memorably painful ways. I do have to say however that the violence here feels very PG-rated compared to what we saw in Stallone’s Rambo, and the carnage was unrelenting in that one.
The acting is good for the most part, but some actors remind of us more of what they were originally famous for as it is abundantly clear that it had nothing to do with classical actor training.
Actually, one actor I really have to give props to here is Mickey Rourke who appears in his second 2010 summer movie after Iron Man 2. Mickey plays Tool (yep, that’s his name), a former teammate of this mercenary team who now spends his days doing tattoos for his buddies. Midway through The Expendables, Mickey has a speech where his character talks about when he was in Bosnia and how he witnessed a woman taking her own life. Tool could have kept it from happening, but he didn’t. It’s one of those typical “buy my soul back” moments we see all the time, and I bet it looked flat on paper. But Mickey plays the hell out of that scene and delivers the movie’s most emotionally powerful moment. I apologize if I have said this before, but Rourke’s comeback performance in The Wrestler was no fluke.
So it looks like the tagline for The A-Team was very wrong indeed; there was a plan B after all! Granted, if I had to choose between the two, The A-Team was more fun, but The Expendables has enough good moments in it to make it worth watching. I was back and forth on this one, but while it could have better, it also could have been A LOT worse. Plus, in a time where movies are very anti-mercenary, this is one of the unique examples of where they can be acceptable as movie heroes.
Now we have the sequel to look forward to, and you know there’s gonna be one since Sly is pretty much determined not to make anymore Rocky or Rambomovies. The big question now is what other big action stars from the 80’s and 90’s can he bring out of the woodwork to join him? Some cast members will clearly not going to able to make it for a second go around, so there are job openings. Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and even Kurt Russell turned down roles in this movie for different reasons. But with this movie being a hit, you know they will express interest in climbing aboard. Anything to get out of their cruddy straight to DVD careers!
*** out of ****