Glenn: Oh I’m sorry, The Expendables, I couldn’t hear you over the roar of your Ferrari engine, the hypnotic waft of your hair plugs and the creaking of your plastic surgery.
I’m not against hyperbolic macho inanity. I genuinely adore Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. I deeply revere the ultra-violence of First Blood and Commando. Dolph Lundgren, I will watch Universal Soldier any day of the week. But this is too far. The Expendables has taken explosions, unflinching walks and gearing up montages way beyond the saturation level.
The laundry list of “talent” is tiring as well as radically uneven. Nearly a dozen lunks of dubious star power and punch-drunkery cram each frame of the trailer for this shoddy sloshed eureka of a concept. Should Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone be allowed to have on-screen dialogue without subtitles? Does anybody find the flip-kicking wooden plank Jet Li entertaining anymore? And wasn’t Eric Roberts a Dr. Who baddie? What Yahtzee Cup toss of casting put this together?
The fact is the best action films were the most minimal. Dirty Harry, Bullit, Die Hard — these are films about a single ubermensch sometimes bow and arrow fighting Russian HIND helicopters. The expendables is the “Will It Blend” clip show of this long-past genre. The geriatric core has teamed up with smirking nobodies and WWE level (literally!) actors in a desperate bid to cash your nostalgia in for another wing on their horrible ’80s mansions. I’ll proffer respect for Stallone for his direct connection to the fan base and his earnest understanding of his role in cinema, but he’s doubled down too many times. Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa and Rambo 4: John Rambo punched his ticket of post-modern fan service already and his hangers-on are looking to ride.
So, let me see if I understand: you’re upset because you won’t be able to hear the dialogue? Or ’cause The Expendables damages the credibility of wrestling? Hmmm, maybe you don’t understand what I was saying. Rambos in the jungle shooting faceless henchmen. Why is that bad? You more than anyone should get behind that script.
What could be better that Dirty Harry? How about six Dirty Harrys? Now put those Dirty Harrys behind the wheels of six Bullitt Mustangs and drive the whole she-bang into the jungle. There you go. The Expendables. The end.
Dan: What are we even debating here? The only thing missing from this giant pot of action hero stew is Jean Claude Van Damme. He’s still alive, right? Why is he not here? What — he’s too good for The Expendables?
So, what happens when you get every tough guy/kicking karate guy/old ’80s muscle-bound “You’re the cancer and I’m the cure” shooting guy and put them in a South American jungle to bring down an evil dictator? If you said Commando/Predator/Rambo, you are right, brother! More like a dozen Rambos, some of whom will kick you right in the face! Stallone. Strathem. Li. Willis. Lundgren. The Gov. of California. Guess who else? Eric Roberts. Micky Rourke. Terry Crews. Look down that insane list. Charisma Carpenter? Giselle? All we need is Ravi Shankar... what, he’s in the movie? What the heck? Oh who cares! It’s like Sylvester Stallone was walking through the lot just grabbing whoever he happened to stumble by. And they all said yes.
Is it a vapid studio marketing ploy to bring all these action stars together? Yes. Is the youngest guy with a gun still old enough to be the father of a Jonas Brother? Yes. Does this movie’s marketing campaign include phrases like “hard hitting,” “men with nothing to lose” and “a man struggling to save a soul: his”? Yes. And it does not matter one whit.
Because watching these guys with guns and wrinkled muscles traipsing into the jungle to blow things up will be infinitely more fun than any of the other nonsense Hollywood has given us in this sad, lightweight summer. In fact, for a sequel, this team should actually go to Hollywood and blow things up there. Don’t think too hard. Just buy the popcorn and let the sweet, baritone mumble of Stallone’s script wash over you like the warm heat from an M-16.
I’m declaring shenanigans on the “just turn off your brain and enjoy” argument. Even so-called “mindless entertainment” has to be carefully planned, plotted and executed to milk our endorphines. That thinking is why so many action movies of late don’t work, because all they are is a rippling series of explosions. You can have a great action movie without high art pretensions but that doesn’t mean that it is without craft. Sadly The Expendables won’t manage that; it’s just wrinkles and booms.