The Expendables (2010) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for strong, bloody violence throughout, and language
Running time: 99 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Eric Roberts, Jet Li, Giselle Itie, David Zayas, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter
Cameo: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham
Review published September 26, 2010
The biggest selling point for this film, and the one that many people will utilize to give it a passably decent grade, is that Sylvester Stallone (Rambo, Rocky Balboa) has put together an all-star team of action-flick talent, stemming from the 1980s to today, into one film. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger (Around the World in 80 Days), while still serving as California's governor) and Bruce Willis (Cop Out) manage to get their mugs in this one, albeit very briefly. Most of them are washed up, but not seen in a major motion picture release for so long that they seem nearly fresh again. As these "old dogs" are trotted out, action fans probably won't help but consider it a hoot to see old favorites again. However, removing that factor from the film will reveal The Expendables to be an entry as tired and dated as its stars, merely a set-up to see these action vets kick major butt through violence that often encroaches into pornographic in its level of graphicness.
A corrupt military dictator, General Garza (Zayas, Michael Clayton), is on the rampage against the people of his own South American island of Vilena, though it is really an rogue American intel expert, James Munroe (Roberts, In the Blink of an Eye) employing Garza's game plan. A loose group of international mercenaries, led by Barney Ross, is employed by a shadow government agent to go in, then discover the general's hot, spunky daughter (Itie, "O Profeta") is undermining her father by sowing the seeds for the rebellion.
Stallone directs after retooling David Callaham's (Doom, Horsemen) original script, taking a generic action-adventure plot and sprinkling it with the requisite male bonding and playful banter you'd expect from the cast involved. In the middle of some relentlessly brutal action sequences, the moments of conversation allow for a breather, even if they aren't particularly inspired with witty writing or memorable confrontations. It doesn't help that most of the cast either have thick accents, gravelly voices, or a tendency to mumble without much coherence, rendering much of the dialogue nearly unintelligible for viewers who lack the option of subtitles.
The Expendables delivers very little in the way of actual humor; it only seems comical due to the main players playing loosely with the material most of the way. The plot is simple and uninspired, with bad guys mostly existing in order to be just evil enough to justify the lurid levels of graphic violence that fillsmany of the action sequences. The film's best moments, which in and of themselves offer mild pleasures, come from the interaction of the aging action stars fighting among themselves, such as a superfluous but nicely staged (choreographed by Corey Yuen (So Close, Fong Sai Yuk)) scene between the diminutive Jet Li (The Mummy 3, The Forbidden Kingdom) using his short stature to gain the edge over the hulking Dolph Lundgren (The Punisher, Masters of the Universe).
Like most big-budget, low IQ endeavors, things blow up big and often, glass breaks whenever possible, and the cast riffs off one-liners all along the way. Hand-to-hand combat, especially featuring large knives both thrown and sliced viciously, fills up a good deal of the action, which is surprising given that a handful of men are essentially fighting an army. Major destruction is unleashed beyond believability when the series of small money shots need one giant one to wrap it up. Some mostly unnecessary character touches have some of the men talking about what they'd like to do when their merc days are over, but with no other build-up, their personal lives interest us very little, especially in a large side plot involving Statham and his ex-girlfriend-in-distress.
The Expendables is a brutally delivered movie only worth a look to see some favorite action stars dusted off for one final hurrah, and perhaps to sate those bloodthirsty weapons-porn enthusiasts titillated by the most graphic of giblet-splattering kill shots, and nothing more. It's too conventional otherwise to recommend, and had this cast had no star power whatsoever, there wouldn't even be enough movie here to get made. It may be a must-see for die-hard action fans, but even on that level, it's hard not to be disappointed that this A-team cast had to be put together for B-movie caliber entertainment.
-- Followed by The Expendables 2 (2012) and The Expendables 3 (2014)
©2010 Vince Leo