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The Expendables (2010) ***

August 13, 2010

written by: Sylvester Stallone & David Callahan

produced by: Avi Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, John Thompson & Robert Earl

directed by: Sylvester Stallone
rated R (for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language)
103 min.
U.S. release date: August 13, 2010

After coming out of a veritable cinematic drought in the 90’s and spending some assuredly unwanted time in the valley of direct-to-DVD hell, The Italian Stallion is back! Sylvester Stallone took charge of his career (in his sixties no less) when he wrote, directed and starred in “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo” two impressive big-screen codas for two of his most famous characters. Now he’s back, taking on the same filmmaking triple duties with “The Expendables”, delivering what is being touted as “the most awesome action cast ever assembled”, in a deliberate move to bring back the testosterone-heavy action of the 80’s into today’s theaters. Get ready for an ample supply of bicep-bulging, gun-blasting and knife-throwing that overpowers forgettable dialogue and a tepid attempt at soul-searching, only to be followed by a hail of explosions and back-breaking slamdowns.
This is a multiple-buddy action movie with an endless amount of machismo camaraderie on display. The Expendables is the name of a group of (silly named) elite mercenaries  with their own individual set of deadly skills. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a group consisting of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), they’ve all been together for what appears to be forever. There’s also retired and honorary member, Tool (Mickey Rourke), who provides tattoos and motorcycle haven for all the boys. When these guys aren’t taking jobs (aka missions), they’re chillin’ with some brewskies to the sounds of John Fogerty and Thin Lizzy, ribbing each other with cheesy bravado.

Tool sets Ross up with a meeting for a potential job offer with a mysterious dude who only goes by Church (Bruce Willis), cuz they meet in a, um, church. Unbeknownst to Ross, another hard head, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is called in for the job as well. Seeing all three of these action veterans (and Planet Hollywood cronies) is an action fan’s dream come true. For the short amount of screen time they have, their cheeky back-and-forth banter serves as a brief nostalgic time capsule. Once Stallone gets that out of the way and his Ross agrees to take the job, the action kicks back into full throttle.

The oppressed people of a fictional Central American island are led by corrupt Gen. Garza (David Zayas), who’s in over his head with James Monroe (Eric Roberts), a once CIA operative now drug lord. Church wants The Expendables to take them both out but even after doing a little recon Ross isn’t quite committed. Only until he is moved by a defiant young woman (Giselle Itie), determined to fight for  the liberation of her country, does Ross change his mind. For a hardened bulldog like him, that kind of fire for life is a foreign emotion. At one time, he may have had that kind of passion but for so long now, he just fights to fight, knowing it’s what he does best.

Now, Ross sees an opportunity to help someone who is determined to fight a losing battle against insurmountable odds. He knows going in with an action plan is pointless, so going in guns blazing is the only way. Backed by his boys, they choose to take down all the scum on the island, including the enormous and appropriately named Paine (Steve Austin), Monroe’s bodyguard. The result is an epic bloody battle with a unlimited body count, the likes of which we haven’t seen….since the last Stallone film. The Expendables waste no time, viscerally dispensing soldiers as they swath a path of inevitable destruction in a blaze of  violent nonsense.

That’s really all there is to “The Expendables”, it may just be a bugnuts gratuitous action bonanza but it’s also a delight to see a movie displaying such rare relentless heroics. Stallone’s back-to-basics approach, free of any blatant CGI, is a welcome return to the kind of action and adventure movies that just aren’t made anymore. These days, more cerebral films with intricate characterizations and layered plots, have become the norm. Those are all fine but Stallone knows that the tone he’s bringing back is old school and his precise delivery is commendable. He’s done what he’s set out to do with “The Expendables” and it may be a fun time but it’s not without its flaws.

The rudimentary story is best when we aren’t submitted to Stallone and David Callahan’s (“Doom”) attempt at providing a message or attempts at male bonding. The not-so-subtle effort to show how life as a merc can take its toll on one’s soul, also takes its toll on viewers. Less in that area certainly would’ve been more. Some of the guy talk between these expendable lugs falls flat and is a bit too much as well. Randy Couture going on about his cauliflower ear (why?) and the constant short jokes at Jet Li’s expense (really?) gets old very fast.  The scattered story also tries to give Statham’s Christmas some troubles with his ex (Charisma Carpenter) that feels trite and uneven, so when he takes out the other guy she’s seeing and all his friends, you’re kinda glad that subplot has ended. It’s a good thing all that is a small percentage of what we see here, since all that really matters is a consistent rush of adrenaline.

“The Expendables” is violently crazy, continuing Stallone’s feral approach to combat from the last Rambo movie. This movie isn’t as serious as that one,  peppered with team dynamic light notes here and there but make no mistake Stallone is a committed filmmaker who gives the story a foundation of courage and even a little combat PTSD for good measure. Stallone efficiently shoots the action in a easy-to-follow style that allows us to see all the blood, sweat and throbbing veins that go into these combat scenes. Two specific fight scenes stand out: Li versus Lundgren and Stallone versus Austin, both shot in a cringe-worthy manner, both satisfying fans who crave those “who would win?” scenarios.  If anyone is hoping for some hand to hand combat awesomeness, it’s here.
The Expendables are a rowdy group that will never leave an innocent behind and it’s very cool to see Stallone invite all these action guys to the party. It’s also cool to consider that the age range of these actors is between 35 and 65 years. That’s mainly due to the fact that you’d be hard-pressed to find guys of this caliber any younger. I’ve always liked the idea of a hard-edged, older dude fighting for what’s right, defying the stereotypical restrictions of age. If  Stallone wants to continue with more films like this for as long as he can, I welcome it. Bring it on! Some may consider this kind of movie a disgusting display of overkill but I think they’re missing out on the sheer visceral entertainment of no-holds barred action. Stallone gives fans of this genre a real treat here, especially to a generation that didn’t grow up on this type of spirited manliness.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    August 13, 2010 2:21 pm

    Looking forward to it!

  2. windi permalink
    August 16, 2010 1:26 pm

    I’ll probably watch it after it comes out on Netflix…. it’s good to see Stallone doing what he does best! 🙂


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