You name a major action star from the last 30 years and you’ve got a 50-percent chance of naming a cast member of The Expendables, a movie co-written by, directed by, starring and featuring thorough butt-kickings of and by Sylvester Stallone.
So, yes, in case you haven’t seen the trailer, the list: Stallone, of course, and also Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, particularly sneery Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, a particularly bad-ass Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke and in delightful little cameos, Bruce Willis and the governor of California, one Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who probably gets the best meta joke of the bunch.
Some of these bang-punch-ka-boom guys are good mercenaries (led by Stallone), some are bad mercenaries (led by Roberts). All participate in the comic relief that fills the scenes between stuff blowing up and guys getting punched. Occasionally, Stallone or Rourke or some combination will attempt to ruminate on what this gun-for-hire life means to their souls (which, yeesh, fellas). For no particular reason Statham gets a very small, very underdeveloped side plot about a girl (Charisma Carpenter) he likes. There is some even more shakily constructed stuff about a girl (Giselle Itie) in peril in some Cuba/Colombia-ish island country. And there is a dictator (David Zayas) of said country who is supposed to be, what, crazy? Or layered? I don’t know, he paints and that’s pretty much all he gets for his character development.
The ruling principle of this movie seems to be getting as many tight shots of as many tough-guy faces as possible, so when things aren’t being punched or exploded they’re being explained in super close-ups that put us staring at the enormous face of, say, Willis or Li. One scene cuts the faces entirely and just does cuts to eyes — Stallone, Statham, Li, maybe a stand-in or two — that close up, who’s to say?
And when our heroes aren’t shot as though the cameraman were looking for sinus infections, they’re shot in fight scenes so dizzying that you find yourself wondering things like, “Who just knifed who in the face?” and “Didn’t that helicopter blow up already?” It’s like the cameraman was in the fight, being kicked in the gut while lying on the ground — but still filming, of course, because this isn’t a movie for wussies.
To say the acting is bad is not so much an understatement; it erroneously suggests that anybody here is acting. It’s more like they’re playing pretend, as if, instead of being asked by their daughters (or, you know, granddaughters) to play princess tea party they’ve been asked by Stallone to play explodey knife party. They are pretending, or in the case of Schwarzenegger, who shows up to saunter into a church, backlit by a golden glow, looking like the robot reincarnation of a Ronald Reagan/Jesus hybrid, just talking while smiling. It looks like they are having a crazy blast of fun time but I doubt anybody was stopping a scene to get Director Stallone to go over their motivation again.
So, good movie? Not as such, no. But, you know, so what?
If you saw the trailer and said “Yeah, baby! Stallone!” then the lack of a coherent plot or, say, cast members who seem to have a grasp on the English language isn’t really going to get in your way of enjoying this film. This isn’t a movie examining the human condition. It’s a movie examining the awesomeness of blowing things up with preposterously large guns and killing people in cartoonishly red-corn-syrup-soaked ways. It does not appear to take itself too seriously and, like a rather significant number of Stallone movies, it even lets Stallone appear old. He, as he tells us, gets his butt kicked. And he does it with a smile. B-
Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language. Directed by Sylvester Stallone and written by Stallone and David Callaham, The Expendables is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate. It opens in wide release on Friday, Aug. 13.