Never have so many "Y" chromosomes been pummeled in the name of entertainment.
With its never-ending parade of machismo, bone-shaking combat scenes and a summit placing Rambo, the Terminator and John McClane in the same room, Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" aspires to be the "Godfather" of action flicks. Stallone clearly wants nothing left than to give audiences a film that reeks of gunpowder, sweat and grease.
Though he falls short of that goal, the former Italian Stallion can find consolation in knowing he made a tough, red-blooded and enjoyable action picture.Comprised of a who's who of B-movie action stars, the Expendables are a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone), and include knife-wielding Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), short but lethal Ying-Yang (Jet Li), gun-packing Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and therapy-addicted Toll Road (Randy Couture). When they're not dispatching pirates or toppling drug cartels, the boys hang out with ex-Expendable, Harley-riding tattoo artist Tool (Mickey Rourke).
Yeah, it's that kind of movie.
The film opens at the end of a job, in which the team has outwitted a group of Somali pirates but had to cut loose one of their own (Dolph Lundgren), who became a little overzealous. The team is offered a new mission in a fictional South American country overrun by a corrupt dictator (David Zayas) and slimy ex-CIA official (Eric Roberts). Barney and Lee initially turn the job down after a close encounter scouting the land, but, as always, a determined girl (Giselle Itie) draws them back to save the day.
But "The Expendables'" target market doesn't care too much about plot. They just want to know how good Stallone blows things up. And although I could have done without the computer-generated blood sprays that punctuate every fight, I'll admit that this is a welcome return to the gritty action of the '80s, when fists, knives and guns were involved in every fight. Every team member gets an applause-worthy action moment, be it diminutive Li facing off against big lunk Lundgren or Stallone going fist to fist with Steve Austin. Statham gets a nice brawl on a basketball court and Crews gets the loudest cheers from the audience wielding a very big gun at a very opportune moment. Stallone, who brought vitality back to the Rambo and Rocky franchises in the last decade, seems eager to revive the days when action pictures were less cerebral and more physical, and stages chaos with a good eye. The film's last 30 minutes will be bliss to action aficionados.
Statham and Stallone command much of the spotlight and have a nice little chemistry. Not much is told about Barney, but Stallone has a good heart-to-heart with Rourke, who brings a surprising amount of soul to his world-weary ex-soldier. Statham is saddled with a tired subplot about a jilted ex-lover (Charisma Carpenter) that only exists for a nice basketball court brawl with her violent current boyfriend.The other Expendables are relegated to the sidelines until the film's final act, which may be a blessing. Li and Lundgren may be action icons, but they stumble through their dialogue, and Itie speaks her lines with a monotone earnestness that would seem amateurish even in the worst moments of "Rambo." Roberts tries to be as slimy and creepy as Alan Rickman in "Die Hard," but can't pull it off, and cuts a fairly disappointing villain; it's little stumbles like this that keep "The Expendables" from being the great action epic Stallone clearly wants it to be.
Although many will tout the brief scene featuring Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis onscreen together as the film's most iconic moment, the truth is that the 2-minute scene is a bit expendable itself, just a nice occasion for the Planet Hollywood co-owners to trade some barbs and set up the plot. It's a fun scene, but it hints at a bigger, flashier film that exists in Stallone's head. He wants to be making "Die Hard," but is instead making a more expensive variation of "Navy SEALS" or "The Last Boyscout."
Truthfully, if "The Expendables" were released in the 1980s it would be a second-tier action movie that found its audience on late-night HBO. Coming in an age where heroes have to apologize for brandishing weapons and spend more time on computers than in car chases, it carries a refreshing and nostalgic feel. Even its lame one-liners and puns are exactly what we expect from this genre and, were Stallone not so prone to sincerity in the film's few quiet moments, this could almost pass as a "Grindhouse"-style action revival.
Action fans are notoriously forgiving as long as the explosions are big, battles are brutal and heroes are larger than life. I suspect they'll have a great time with "The Expendables." It's easy to criticize a film for having no meat on the bone, but here's one that's all meat, no bone. I suspect those who line up for "The Expendables" would want nothing less.