It’s harder to find straight up action packed cinema these days, with more and more studios walking the PG-13 line for bigger box office figures. Notably, Bruce Willis couldn’t even say his catch phrase in Live Free or Die Hard because an F-bomb is an R-rated offense. In contrast, The Expendables is a violent swearing sailor that pisses drunkenly on these sad sods that call themselves “action films” – but that doesn’t make it the best.
The Expendables has received more attention for its lengthy cast than for its story. Featuring Jet Li, Sylvester Stallone (who also directed and wrote), Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, and cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Expendables is a man-on-a-mission tale of a group of mercenaries tasked to take down a South American dictator. When pack leader Barny Ross (Stallone) and companion Lee Christmas (Statham) fumble a scouting venture, they expose their contact Sandra to mortal harm. Despite the danger, she will not leave the country with the American gringos. Troubled by his conscience, Stallone and friends go back to save Sandra–and to blow up the whole island with bullets and slow motion dives.
The Expendables is a cracked out, insane action film that will not sleep until it has completely depleted the entire stock of the Bad Guy Depot. Within the first 10 minutes one goon is blown in half. But don’t worry. He’ll have many friends in the “Legless” or “Sans Torso” ward of the Foot Soldiers R Us hospital as the final act of the film puts a shameless number of faceless assailants through the meat grinder.
There are some noteworthy hand-to-hand fight scenes that will induce amazement, as well as notable non-CGI moments where most directors would slap their actor in front of a green screen.
So kudos to Mr. Stallone for these elements to the film. Crazy violence, some interesting fights and stunts, and even some light-hearted banter between these varied cast members.
However, the word that really fits The Expendables is inconsistent. There’s a lot of action, but it strays into the insanely laughable realm. Stallone seems to want to ground the film in serious drama when Mickey Rourke delivers a scene, with great gravitas, in which his character Tool reveals mercenary work’s damage to the soul. Yet, soon after you’re laughing your ass off as Hale Ceasar (Terry Crews) comically chews through a ridiculous number of baddies with a loud, pulpifying shotgun or blows up watch towers with the same weapon. In other words, Stallone isn’t willing to accept the bat shit insane violence as bat shit insane violence. If the film did this, it would be funnier and overall more entertaining.
The final quarter drags due to excess, both in terms of length and of the sheer amount of dead bodies and explosions. Eventually you’re just dull to what’s enfolding in what I like to call the 300 effect: if you’ve already seen 20 bad guys killed in the same manner over and over, you’re going to get bored.
If there was going to be a silly movie I was going to embrace this summer, I was expecting it to be The Expendables. The problem is the film doesn’t surpass any of the previous films made by the cast members. I’d rather watch Cliffhanger, Transporter, or Unleashed before I’d re-watch The Expendables. This film is definitely a throwback to 80’s action cinema and delivers in certain ways, but it doesn’t leave you joyfully testosterone fueled (like Die Hard), just numb and dumb. Wait to see it on DVD when you can rally some friends around and take shots everytime someone dies. The guy without alcohol poisoning wins.