Title: The Expendables
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: October 4th, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
The Expendables is louder than a Philadelphia sports venue and stars everyone on Sylvester Stallone's speed dial. It's about as formulaic as it gets and doesn't care in the least.
Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader of an infamous and deadly group of mercenaries that call themselves...you guessed it...The Expendables. His team receives deployment missions to various parts of the world but seem to mostly operate on their own. The latest mission takes Barney's team to the city of Vilena, ruled by evil dictator General Garza (David Zayas) and influenced by former CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Ross' team is sent in to eliminate Garza from power, but things go awry enough for the mission to get aborted. Sandra (Giselle Itie), the team's initial contact and ally is revealed to be Garza's daughter, operating independently to protect her fellow citizens from her father's corruption.
After declining an opportunity to flee the city with the mercenaries, Sandra is arrested and tortured with execution being inevitable. After hearing a friend relate the situation to an old war story where a girl was left to die, Ross decides to return to Vilena for a rescue mission. And if they're lucky, Garza's posse won't live to see the aftermath.
There are several other subplots inserted into the script to coincide with the impressive cast list. They range from mildly interesting to laughably lame. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews (my cousin Andy and I both referred to him as "the guy in those Old Spice commercials" since we couldn't remember his name) all have roles as members of the Expendable mercenaries. Statham's character is trying to patch up a relationship that's hurt from all the time he spends away from home. Li's character is in financial trouble. Couture's character is bothered by a cauliflower ear. And Lundgren's character uses methods that are considered unacceptable by his teammates. These stories don't even have enough substance to sustain a generic television episode. So it's all the more bewildering to see them here. I admire the effort to give everyone a little background history. But in the end, they shouldn't have bothered. Nobody pays to see a movie like The Expendables for a character study. They pay to see explosions, guns and more explosions. All this side nonsense just slows things down.
The accompanying studio buzz that claimed that the movie was going to be an homage to 1980's action films is both true and misleading. Nearly all of the 80s icons are there and the plot is a disguise for the perfect action set-piece. But the style and overall tone is still very much present day, and not in a good way. Quite a surprise considering Stallone was supposedly the man behind the camera. Perhaps there was an uncredited ghost director somewhere? Far too many cut-away shots spoil the early fight scenes. Shaky cameras should not act as a substitute for excitement, only as an enhancement tool. The mood has the right amount of dark undertones but an uneven amount of comic relief. I was disappointed in not having any memorable one-liners to trade with friends for reference. We were instead given unoriginal jokes like cell phones interrupting a serious confrontation. There is enough of that happening in real life, so why would it be amusing to see in a movie?
The long promoted scene featuring Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis all sharing the same screen (or as I like to call it: Planet Hollywood The Movie) is a disappointment in itself. According to IMDB reports, Schwarzenegger and Willis agreed to work on a handshake deal out of their mutual friendship with Stallone. The scene was filmed in six hours. I'm surprised it took that long. It serves its purpose by setting up the plot but doesn't feel like anything more than a clever marketing tactic. At least we get to see friends helping out friends. That's always nice.
Stallone may be over the hill but his dangerous screen aura is just as strong as it was in 1982. In fact, the "it" factor that helped all of these stars earn their recognition in the first place never seems missing. So while some fans will inevitably be disappointed that their favorite hero didn't get as much screen time as they would have liked, they can be assured that all of them get at least one powerhouse punch in worthy of applause.
The final thirty minutes of the film is when the action goes for broke and unleashes all of the testosterone and heavy artillery that everyone wants to see. The action is significantly better during this third act. Enough so that it's almost alone worth the price of admission.
Even though my conscience cannot declare The Expendables to be a good picture by any standard, I would be lying if I said I was sorry for watching it. As my viewing companion was wise enough to point out, expectations need to be kept low and realistic. It's a movie made by men for men. It's like our version of Sex and the City. A stupid guilty pleasure. Too bad so much time is wasted on the ridiculous subplots. Otherwise it would have simply been a stupid pleasure.