REVIEW: The Expendables [2010]

“I woulda win”

When a summer movie season can be described as disappointing and have it be an understatement, nothing says popcorn blockbuster better than a big budget action flick. 2010 never quite had anything to fit the bill, but that wasn’t going to stop Sylvester Stallone from attempting to bring the masses something close. The hype has been huge as Sly compiled a who’s who cast of action stars (relevant and not), fringe athletes, and badass character folk like Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke to literally blow up anything in their way. No disrespect to Lionsgate, they just aren’t up with the big boys on budget or quality to birth a flawless action experience without the noticeable cost restraints of special effects. Between the cartoony blood explosions courtesy of high caliber rounds, badly rendered smoke clouds, and horribly fake crumbling architecture as well as forgettable performances from almost every actor involved—I have to blame you Stallone, AKA Mr. Director, for that one—the experience of watching The Expendables can underwhelm. Thankfully, though, when the characters shut their mouths and start using fists, feet, blades, and insanely loud guns, the carnage is masterful.

Get beyond Stallone’s obvious lack of skill behind the camera, making almost every collective conversation amongst tough guys as corny as can be with ham-fisted reaction shots and poor line readings; close your eyes during a scene so unnecessary that the inclusion of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s abysmal acting makes it worse; and pretend the stilted effects hitch due to the technology being unable to handle such massive destruction; the stuff you came to see, action heroes from the past three decades wreaking havoc, delivers. Right from the start we are given a glimpse into the quasi-morally conscious mercenaries named The Expendables—a moniker that ultimately proves ironic due to clichéd writing and perhaps contract stipulations for franchise possibilities not allowing them to be—as six ex-military men take on a legion of Somali pirates with American hostages in killing range. We are treated to their egos, their sarcastic rapport, and their ability to get the job done. Besides a lapse of judgment on the part of Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner—interesting seeing Ivan Drago on the same side as Rocky—with an example of intolerable action and the consequences, everything runs smoothly.

The boys get home safe and ready for the next assignment handed down by ex-partner, current general of sorts, and artistic tattoo artist Tool (Rourke), joking about the lack of families and the desire to get back into the fray. Being a testosterone-laden affair, however, Stallone and co-writer Dave Callaham had to infuse some sort of attractive eye candy, therefore bringing second-in-charge Lee Christmas’s (Jason Statham) girlfriend Lacy (Charisma Carpenter) to the story. This whole subplot becomes one more innocuous inclusion that adds nothing to the film—I’d at least understand her being a source of gratuitous nudity to draw more college kids in, but she wasn’t even that. Statham doesn’t need any source of heart to understand his motivations, none of these guys do. They are here to fight, kill, and blow things up. If anything, the only person needing a source of moral compass is leader Barney Ross in the form of Giselle Itié’s Sandra, the brave woman who has brought them to her country of Vilena. Stallone’s Ross’s need to save Sandra from a dictator father and ex-CIA James Monroe (Roberts) is foretold with a brilliantly acted monologue on behalf of Rourke, the one shining moment of craft. I’m just happy they let Itié be a ‘daughter’ figure for Sly and not a love interest. That would have been creepy.

So the boys go to Vilena in hopes to save the girl; killing the people suppressing the nation in the meanwhile is simply gravy on top of that main objective. It all leads to some stunningly orchestrated scenes of violence with high-octane bouts between Stallone and Steve Austin—my lord this guy is a giant of a man—Austin and Randy Couture—who’s diatribe explaining his cauliflower ears proves to be one more example of bad writing and missed comedic opportunity—and Terry Crews versus a platoon of South American soldiers. Crews is a ton of fun, doing what he does best, with a natural charisma that only shows how wooden most of his compatriots are. Stallone has his moments when not running in a way begging for laughter; Jet Li is little more than comic relief when not dealing the smoothest example of fisticuffs; and Statham once again shows he is the complete action hero package by having the formidable look and acting chops to back it up. You might forget his talents when starring in his own films, but watching him with his peers either lets him shine or just sheds light on how bad the rest truly are.

Eric Roberts does deliver a nice villainous role to counter the boys’ quest for justice and the sanctity of life, which is a joke after watching them kill remorselessly and with ease. But I wish the script would have allowed them to simply be action stars saving the day, leaving the forgettable romance and corny jokes, with blatant reactionary laughter to prove to an unimpressed audience that the line was supposed to be funny, at home. Nevertheless, every summer action flick has its share of blunders and shoddy workmanship—these aren’t Shakespearean trained thespians after all—so you need to take it all with a grain of salt. The stakes could have been a lot higher and the skill level of the antagonists a bit closer to that of these American saviors, but overall I can’t complain too much. The trailers and marketing material have been billing The Expendables as a fun-filled, bloody mess; the kind of action film in short supply lately. To that end, if nothing else, Stallone and company succeed.

The Expendables 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, left), Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, center) and Toll Road (Randy Couture, right) in THE EXPENDABLES. Photo credit: Karen Ballard
[2] Terry Crews stars as ‘Hale Caesar’ in THE EXPENDABLES. Photo credit: Karen Ballard

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