Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)
The Expendables is the official movie of the 13-year-old boy. Women and nuance are pushed to the outside in favor of a Boys Only clubhouse where explosions, cartoon violence, and one liners rule the day. The cherry on top of this adrenaline sugar rush? Well, if you’ve ever seen that one movie with that guy who does that thing, he’s probably involved, even if it’s just to be involved. These are people to whom character names are arbitrary–last names in capital letters above their grimacing movie poster mugs will do just fine.
- STALLONE: The leader. Has seen plenty of action. Has a funny goatee.
- STATHAM: The British guy. Talks in a menacing whisper. Uses knives. Has a girlfriend.
- JET LI: Knows karate. Very short.
- LUNDGREN: Drunken foreigner of unknown country. Big. Powerful. Stupid. Danger to the team.
- ROBERTS: Evil cocaine dealer. Kind of a dick. Looks like he walked out of a Just For Men ad.
- COUTURE: MMA guy. Goes to therapy. Aside from Ying Yang (Li), has the most laughable character name (Toll Road).
- AUSTIN: Bad guy. Bald. Angry. Best part of the movie.
- ROURKE: “Poetic.” Sleeps with “hot” women. Has blood on his hands. Is seemingly unscripted.
- CREWS: Guy with a shotgun, guy with a shotgun, guy with a shotgun.
- SCHWARZENEGGER: The rival. Has lost weight. Walks into glorious, blinding white light.
- WILLIS: The CIA operative. Collects paycheck. Bathes in money.
The plot: A CIA operative (Willis) hires Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew of Expendables to take down the head of the country Villena (which is almost “villain,” you’ll notice). He and the gang use a bunch of stuff that would have made awesome toys in the 1990s to get the job done. One of the Expendables is crazy, one is in therapy, one is using a shotgun that doesn’t exist on this or any other plane of reality, and one wants more money because he might want a family. Also, Lee Christmas (Statham) has a girlfriend, but he can’t tell her what he does, so she starts seeing a new guy who isn’t good for her and beats her up. I guess this is supposed to stop them (or at least slightly irritate them) from blowing up a CGI house and generally bringing the noise, but it doesn’t.
The problem: I’ll be the first to admit it: On paper, this movie has everything teenage me wanted in a movie. I know this because once, during lunch period, I took out a piece of paper and started drafting a movie called “DEATH INCORPORATED,” which had pretty much the same cast (plus a few notables that aren’t here) and pretty much the same plot: Find a reason to have a group of aging action stars in a room with one another, give them a small armory to play with. I’ll have you know that Death Incorporated played for huge laughs at the lunch table.
And, honestly, so does The Expendables, but not because it’s a goofy, glorious ride into the sunset for the macho chorus that ushered me into adolescence. If The Expendables is goofy, it isn’t because it’s meant to be. Here, there are Somali pirates, shadowy white business men, banana republics, and a strong sense of ennui—nobody much knows why they’re pumping a random, face-painted goon full of lead; they just do it and question why later.
It’s the constant chatter that leads The Expendables astray, moving away from the 80s archetype of action movies that were goofy to suit the needs of their stars to being goofy because, between action sequences, Stallone had no idea what to have anybody say or do. It used to be that everything that was said in a movie like this was the lead-in to the next big kill, the one-liners serving as the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae. Here, well, there are long stretches of dialog that are nearly indescribable, plot elements that appear merely for the sake of cramming Eric Roberts into the movie, and scenes where the Expendables who aren’t Stallone, Statham, or Li just kind of show up.
I guess what I’m saying is that it didn’t used to be this way. And for every fist bump, motorcycle ride, and celebratory beer, there’s a moment where one of the guys on camera has a look on his face that screams “What the hell am I doing here?” The best of these comes from Stallone after Mickey Rourke gives a long, non-sequitiur filled ramble about some distant action he and Stallone saw where there was blood everywhere and, in that blood somewhere, was some hidden point that he can’t quite remember, and might not actually make a lick of sense given the current situation. Honorable mentions go to the conversation between Stallone and Li about how short Li is and how much he might want a family, and the scene where Statham figures out his ex’s new boyfriend isn’t a good dude from the sound of his voice.
If you’re willing to look past the utterly laughable nature of the scenes that come in-between the action sequences, this’ll probably at least be fun. Sure, the fight scenes are done with no thought given to structure or pacing, but it’s big kill after big kill after big, glorious kill. The theatre I was in gave out oohs and ahhs like this was a 4th of July fireworks display, which I guess it kind of was.
And then there’s poor Steve Austin, who hasn’t really made a name for himself as an action star after a run as the world’s most popular professional wrestler. Of all the people in this movie who are allowed to do their schtick, I was (pleasantly) surprised that it was Stone Cold, who threw himself headlong into the task of being the bad guy with aplomb. Here is a man who knows exactly what he’s doing in a movie like this, and he does it with the conviction that the bad guy’s muscle needs.
Don’t be fooled though. This isn’t a flashback to the heyday of ridiculously done action flicks like The Running Man and Rocky IV. It’s more like a homage to the current crop of action films, the Transporters and Wars of the bunch, and, when I think about it, my inner 13-year-old outgrew those movies a long time ago.
The Expendables. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. With Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Jet Li (Ying Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunnar Jensen), Eric Roberts (James Munroe), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Steve Austin (Paine), Charisma Carpenter (Lacy), and Mickey Rourke (Tool). Released August 13, 2010, by Lionsgate.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.