Monday, November 29, 2010
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Eric Roberts, Charisma Carpenter, David Zayas
Running Time: 103 min.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
The Expendables offers up the opportunity to see a dream team of action stars on acting auto-pilot shoot people in a film destined to head straight the discount DVD bin. Sly Stallone wrote, directed, produced and stars, continuing the 80's action nostalgia comeback he recently mounted with Rocky Balboa and Rambo and I was really taken aback by just how lackluster it is since the idea of teaming these guys up had some potential. Everything that could possibly go wrong nearly does as the film plays just as if he gathered his pals and over a few beers decided to shoot an action movie for kicks. But it's biggest crime is that it isn't even any fun, which should be the absolute minimum expected from something like this. Stallone grunts his way through one of his least engaging lead performances without much support from the rest of the cast. The Disposables may have been a better title as only two actors emerge from it relatively unscathed, and that's only because they're given so little to do. Everyone else looks foolish for having even appeared in it, forcing me to actually applaud Van Dam and Segal for having the foresight to sit this one out.
The Expendables of the title are a group of six mercenaries consisting of Stallone's veiny, tattooed leader Barney Ross, bad-ass Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), height challenged martial arts expert Ying Yang (Jet Li), cauliflower eared Toll Road (Randy Couture), angry, unintelligible giant Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and the intimidating Hale Cesar (Terry Crews), who doesn't speak softly and carries a big gun. They're hired for a dangerous assignment by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis, in a church) to assassinate Central American dictator, General Garza (David Zayas), who's been running drugs with rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Initially given the offer because they're "expendable," Ross makes it personal when he kind of develops a thing for the dictator's daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itie), who loyally puts her country and its people ahead of her own well being. Mercifully for us, the script doesn't explore that potential relationship at all, as if there would be time anyway in the midst of all the gunfire. Despite vague attempts by the script to assign its members' clever nicknames, backstories and characteristics, for honesty's sake they could have easily just been called Stallone, Statham, Li, Crews, Couture and Lundgren and no one would have noticed. And I haven't even gotten to Austin and Rourke. It's obvious the big draw here is seeing all these top action stars on screen together at once for the first time and Stallone is so in love with the idea (in all fairness a pretty good one) that he decides to just rest on that, denying us a plot we can rally behind.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's much buzzed about cameo is indicative of the many missed opportunities to give this all-star lineup interesting characters to play. His brief early scene with Stallone and Willis is pointless, existing only as an attention-grabbing distraction and a chance for a few old buddies to have a laugh while winking at the camera. Worse still, "The Governator" isn't even given any good lines before disappearing at the blink of an eye. No "I'll be back" or anything. There was a point where I actually thought the three would turn to the camera and start talking about how cool it is they're all onscreen together and how lucky we are to witness it, which could have been true had the scene meant anything. Mickey Rourke continues blazing his bizarre post-Oscar career trail with a turn as philosophical ex-team member, Tool, who's pretty much the Mr. Miyagi of tattoo artists. Rourke is Rourke, which is always good for some fun even in small doses. It's too bad Eric Roberts is still Eric Roberts and has long past the point where he's become a complete parody of himself. He's at his cheesy, scenery chewing worst here and it's a shame he felt the need to follow up a somewhat respectable turn in The Dark Knight with this. Despite being one of the weak links in that film, at least Nolan reined him in, but if he wants to be taken seriously as an actor again it would help to stop taking joke parts like this. As his right-hand man, Paine, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is required mostly to stand there and look intimidating, which he does well, but knowing the life span of henchmen in action movies, don't expect to see him in the sequel. The female "love interest" is as bland as they come and the casting of Dexter's David Zayas as an evil dictator is laughably off the mark. Of the actual Expendables, only Statham entertains (particularly when disposing of some guys during a scene on a basketball court) but that's not surprising given that he can play the tough guy role in his sleep. Stallone instead literally plays it in his sleep, reminding us how bad he can be when saddled with a script (in this case his own) that doesn't given him anything to do but mumble and growl.
While the entire plot of The Expendables is half-heartedly conceived, the routine action scenes at least look believable, lacking obvious CGI. I was never bored and Stallone (still a competent action director despite this misfire) keeps everything moving at a good clip. If he didn't, a movie that's merely lazy and uninspired could have easily turned unbearable. What started as a promising idea on paper plays onscreen as a "Planet Hollywood" reunion when so much more could have been done and all the tools were there to do it. Stallone's already rounding up the cast for The Expendables II, so here's hoping he eventually follows through with his original plan of paying tribute to high octane 80's blockbusters rather than honoring late 90's direct-to-DVD action movies starring Eric Roberts.