“The Expendables”? More like “The Super Unkillables”. Ahem.
Leave it to a former ‘80s action movie star like Sylvester Stallone to make a movie in 2010 that perfectly resembles something out of the bygone days when Hollywood blow’em ups ruled the world. Except in this case, instead of the usual one unstoppable killing machine wreaking havoc on the bad guys, there are five. Or six. Or eight, if you really want to get technical about it, though two of them, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (both making uncredited cameos) don’t actually join in on the bodycount fun.
The mostly all-male cast of “The Expendables” is led by star/writer/director Stallone as Barney Ross, the leader of a motley crew of super badasses who do super badass things like kill Somali pirates while cracking jokes and other super badass stuff. The crew includes Barney’s right-hand man, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews). (These are not, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, their real names.) Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) was a member of the gang, until the nose candy made him, ahem, expendable. There is a sixth pseudo member of the group, Barney’s old buddy Tool (Mickey Rourke), who has since retired and spends his time doing tattoos and acting as a go-between for Ross and future employers.
“The Expendables” is essentially a movie about Barney and Lee, where a bunch of other guys show up every now and then when people need killing. The gang’s latest job takes them to a small South American island currently under the despotic iron fist of General Garza (“Dexter’s” David Zayas), a cartoonish bad guy who is himself under the cruel thumb of ex-CIA scumbag James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Ol Munroe has strong-armed the General and his country on the strength of greed and able assists from his own two muscle-bound meatheads, Paine (Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels). And if you’re wondering how Munroe and his two henchmen have managed to keep the entire country in line, keep in mind that Barney and his four guys have just been hired to kill the whole regime. So yeah, we’re not exactly dealing with the Iraqi Republican Guard here.
Predictably, things go awry for Barney and Lee almost immediately after they arrive on the island and meet their contact, the saucy and feisty local (are there any other kind?) Sandra (Giselle Itie), who harbors a secret from the boys. Sandra also acts as a love interest and moral compass for the directionless Barney. (Lee’s own love life is fulfilled by “Angel’s” angelic Charisma Carpenter.) The stage is set for Barney and company to return to the island in the film’s Third Act to, as the kids say, blow shit up and take names. If by “names” you mean rack up an impressive, if incredibly ridiculous bodycount, then that’s exactly what they do. Hey, did you really expect more than this? Sucks to be you, then.
It’s not hard to like “The Expendables”. If you’ve ever watched any of Stallone’s ‘80s or ‘90s action films, then this movie was made specifically for you. The only person who stands out in the cast is Jet Li, who isn’t exactly known for shooting people in his movies. The only film that I recall of Li’s where he even uses a gun was one of his earlier titles, the “Bodyguard” rip-off “Bodyguard from Beijing”. So while casting Li as one of the mercenaries is an intriguing concept, it does feel incongruous with the bulging biceps and macho tough guy talk from the rest of the Western cast. Then again, casting Li and giving him third billing is a shrewd business move on Stallone’s part, since it will ensure some major box office returns for the production when “The Expendables” opens in Asia.
As for the movie itself, it’s probably ironic that “The Expendables” is exactly just that – a pretty expendable action movie. Take away the cast and budget, replace them with some other muscle-bound meatheads, and the film would go straight to DVD. It’s not as if Stallone and co-writer Dave Callaham actually gives anyone besides Barney and Lee anything to do that doesn’t involve shooting or stabbing people, though there are a couple of really amusing scenes with Jet Li’s Ying Yang, who may or may not have a kid, and who wants more money because, well, he’s shorter than everyone else. Crews and Couture both get their heroic moments, and Couture, like Li, gets an amusing moment where he whines about his ear. Crews, meanwhile, gets to brag about the power of his shotgun, and later, probably has the film’s signature action moment when he literally obliterates an entire squad of goons with that same shotgun.
Alas, there is one big problem with “The Expendables” that I hadn’t anticipated: the editing is horrific from start to finish. There’s no coherent flow to any of the fight scenes thanks to rapid-fire editing that takes the logic out of every kick, punch, and shot. As a result, there are multiple sequences where the bad guys have the good guys surrounded one moment, cut to a series of gunshots and stabbings and voila, it’s over and all the bad guys are dead. You have absolutely no idea how that happened or how it got to that point, but you just know that there was a lot of gunshots and inserts of knives stabbing flesh and then it was all over. I wish I could tell you that the fight between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren was one of the highlights, or that the fight between Jet Li and Gary Daniels bordered on awesome, but honestly, I couldn’t even tell you with a straight face if it were actually the actors doing the fighting or some stuntmen.
On the other hand, “The Expendables” does pretty much everything it sets out to do – get a bunch of well-known action movie guys together and blow shit up like there’s no tomorrow. The script is reminiscent of all those ‘80s and ‘90s direct-to-DVD action movies where Predictable Plot A leads to Predictable Plot B culminating in Predictable Ending C. And let me just make it clear: that’s not a knock on “The Expendables”. The fact is, I didn’t expect a whole lot more than that, and I was pleasantly surprised by, well, not being surprised. The film progresses exactly as you would expect, and never really deviates from the formula. Heck, towards the end of the film, bad guy Eric Roberts even keeps dragging the feisty damsel-in-distress around even as the entire world is exploding around him. You’d think he could get away faster without having to haul her everywhere fighting and screaming, but then you wouldn’t get the dramatic scene where Stallone faces off against the bad guy with the girl standing between them at gunpoint.
Predictability and shitty editing are downsides to “The Expendables”. The upside? It’s the movie that gave us a great scene involving three of the biggest legends of Hollywood action movies of all time. If just for those brief few minutes, “The Expendables” is a must-see. The rest is still worth watching for fans of the genre. And if you ever find yourself thinking something along the lines of, “Wait, so they slap all those C4 bombs all over the mansion, and not a single bad guy ever runs across a single C4 pack during the entire night?”, just remember, it’s an ‘80s action movie that somehow got made in 2010. That will solve pretty much any problems you might have with “The Expendables”. And if it doesn’t? Well, “Eat Pray Love” is probably playing next door…
Sylvester Stallone (director) / Sylvester Stallone, Dave Callaham (screenplay)
CAST: Sylvester Stallone … Barney Ross
Jason Statham … Lee Christmas
Jet Li … Ying Yang
Dolph Lundgren … Gunner Jensen
Eric Roberts … James Munroe
Randy Couture … Toll Road
Steve Austin … Paine
David Zayas … General Garza
Giselle Itié … Sandra
Charisma Carpenter … Lacy
Gary Daniels … The Brit
Terry Crews … Hale Caesar
Mickey Rourke … Tool