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Li, Stallone, Statham, Austin, Rourke, Lundgren, {Eric} Roberts, these are the sounds I expected to hear when I died and was carted off to B-movie heaven.  Somehow the action movie cosmos have aligned to gift me with what should’ve been my blessing when I was finally called Home.  If only The Expendables’ reality had been as divine as its roll call.

In this time of gender neutral hipster males walking the streets in skinny girl jeans utterly devoid of any discernable masculine swagger, The Expendables is a sweaty blast of testosterone-driven action.  Calling back to star Sylvester Stallone’s 1980’s heyday as the seminal movie heroes Rocky and Rambo, one should arrive at The Expendables in full awareness that Stallone’s script for the film often feels like something out of a time machine.  Nuance?  Subtlety?  Emotional content?  Say what, now?  That Stallone attempts to force these square pegs only makes his musclebound screenplay all the more clunky.  I didn’t come to this movie to see Sly and Mickey Rourke get dewy-eyed and sentimental.

Nope, what I came for was guns, guns, guns, macho posturing and gratuitous violence.  Right off the bat, during The Expendables’ mission to rescue shipboard hostages kidnapped off the African coast, when the top half of a Somali pirate went missing before my eyes, I knew I was in the right place.  Clearly, Stallone had some gore effects left over from 2008’s astoundingly brutal Rambo.  In our opening sequence, we see how a life of too much murder, however government-sanctioned, can wreak havoc on man’s soul and such is the way one bitter Expendable gets put out to pasture; but you can’t keep a macho man down for long so don’t expect any of these fellows to warm a rocking chair.  The group’s goateed leader, Ross, considers another assignment for the team, this time a secret coup of a third world Latin American country ruled by a drug-running dictator.  After an initial investigation, Ross is about to turn down the mission as a bad deal when he finds he can’t forget the fetching, brave rebel girl who risked her life to persuade the mercenaries to overthrow her country’s corrupt rule.  Cue the clumsy mush and awkward sentiment.  When Ross predictably changes his mind and tells his crew he’s taking the mission alone, that simply won’t do and soon we have all the shoot-em up, jaw busting, flame-throwing action we’ve been waiting for.  Each Expendable gets a quick moment to show off his specialty; you have your explosives expert, your snipers, your hand-to-hand wrasslers and so forth.  Perhaps there is just too much of a good thing here because none of these showcase sequences ever live up to their promise.  They come close, but fall short except perhaps early on when Jason Statham - besides Stallone, obviously meant to be the center of the film’s attention - takes down a group of the dictator’s men.  Speaking of short, we have Jet Li as our kung fu guy and I had to wonder if he was first choice to be in this movie because it doesn’t seem like either the writers, director (That would be Stallone on both counts.) or the cinematographer are the least bit familiar with who he is or why he’s famous.  Slow motion for one of the fastest moving action heroes ever filmed?  I also protest the idea that it takes two people to help Jet Li win a fight – just no.  On the other hand, Stallone doesn’t disappoint when he’s got names like WWE wrestling legend and hops aficionado Stone Cold Steve Austin and UFC icon Randy Couture on the bill.  The aroma of Old Spice and Brut (and Ben-Gay) in this film is so strong that Stallone lures a couple of old action rivals/ business partners into the act; we don’t have nearly enough of Bruce Willis as the CIA man making an offer to Ross for the South American job along with a competing solider of fortune from Austria who turns it down because, as Ross relates, “He wants to be President.” Yeah Sly, I saw Demolition Man, too.

While there are unmistakable influences from other war films, like 1967’s The Dirty Dozen present, The Expendables seems to want to emulate Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds {2009} as its template in terms of the unapologetic violence and war zone destruction.  What keeps The Expendables from hitting the mark is its utter lack of irony or ingenuity.  Not that the film should be a joke or a parody, but there’s precious little (intentional) humour throughout, with most of it delivered by Statham, Willis, or the underused Li, whose constant assertion that as the smallest Expendable has to work the hardest and should get paid more has serious merit.  Dialog that’s meant to be humourous kind of falls flat as do the weird romance angles between Statham’s ex and the rebel girl who Stallone can’t help just because he digs her, she’s gotta “stand for something.”  Oy.  Word to the wise for The Expendables 2; unless you’ve got Cynthia Rothrock coming out of mothballs for a sequel, lets leave this an all-boys club.  More griping about the cinematographer, The Expendables is an ugly looking film; everything looks muddy, murky and low-budget, and in merciless close-ups both Stallone and Rourke look like wax figures.  However, the scenes of Stallone shirtless or running for his life amid bullet and bombs assure the audience this is one well-preserved senior citizen.  The long shots of The Expendables’ destruction; the flaming decimation of a port and annihilating the dictator’s army are well done and really that’s the kind of stuff that takes priority here.  The cast of The Expendables looks like they’re having a good time; Mickey Rourke’s obvious adlibs are worth the price of admission and his Pope of Greenwich Village costar, Eric Roberts is only missing a twirly mustache as a rogue CIA agent.  Overall, as long as they realise they’re not the theatre playing Eat Pray Love, audiences will enjoy it, too.

Is The Expendables all I wanted it to be?  Sadly, not quite; its script is too brain-dead for the excellence I expected.  What The Expendables is, is testosterone-overdosing B-movie summer action that reminds moviegoers of a time when a side order of machismo with their gratuitous violence was a lot of fun.
 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

August 13th, 2010

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Lionsgate)

 

 

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