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Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Randy Couture and Terry Crews. The cast for “The Expendables” is ripe enough to make any child of the ‘80s think back to the glory days of the action film, with all the great lines like “I’ll be back” and “Yippy ki-ay…” (you get the point). Stallone’s latest directing endeavor pays homage to the good ol’ days of action with twice the body count. Sadly, the result only proves that ac-tion stars don’t age like a fine wine but go sour like 64-year-old milk.
I’d normally summarize the plotline at this point, but alas there isn’t much of one on which to reflect. Just imagine Amer-ican mercenaries portrayed as the saviors of a small Latin country (a first in recent years with “24”, “District 9” and “Avatar” providing some of the most biting criticism of guns for hire) secretly being controlled by an ex-CIA man. After the generic story is in place, the film is storyboarded by explosions and creative ways to kill those evil Latino soldiers who can’t think for themselves (Patronizing and a little racist? Abso-lutely).
The history of this film says it all. Roles and cameos were offered to and planned for former A-list actioners, like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Wesley Snipes and Kurt Russell. I’m surprised Chuck Norris didn’t make the list. “The Expen-dables” cares more about the ensemble cast than creating the sense of fun these characters can have sharing the screen together. While character development is unsurprisingly thin, attempts to go deeper become laughable as we watch Statham, as Lee Christmas, beat up an abusive boyfriend of his ex, Lacy (Charisma Carpenter, known for her far more memorable role as Cordelia Chase on TV’s “Angel”), and Stallone, as Barney Ross, fall in love with not-quite-but-still-damsel-in-distress, Sandra Garza (Gisele Itié), who could be his granddaughter. All the other characters remain in the background, with the occasional comments by and about Jet Li, as Yin Yang (Seriously, what’s with the names?), in reference to his (“short”) height.
Attempts at bro-dialogue are fickle as we listen to Couture, as Toll Road, defend his misshapen ears due to high school wrestling, hoping the audience will get the joke, since Couture is actually a UFC fighter and that’s the reason for the disfigurement (It’s funny, right?…). Things get more blatant during the showdown between our UFC fighter and the WWE fighter not actor, Stone Cold (Remember the “Austin 3:16” signs?). I’m surprised Crews didn’t jump in to show us what a former NFL player has to offer.
You might be able to predict this one from the trailer but don’t expect much from Schwarzenegger, Willis and Rourke. Our governor and Willis only appear once and Rourke’s character serves as the wounded soldier reminiscing about better days before the life of a mercenary emotionally ruined him.
I wanted to enjoy this film. I even thought Stallone’s previous film, “Rambo”, was bloody entertaining. But the acting here is so pathetic, it’s hard to look past. It’s also discouraging to watch actors who chose not to age with grace, replacing wrinkles with botox and plastic surgery, made all too clear by the HD power of the big screen.
Poor Stallone. Besides his awkward run and enormous arm veins, he doesn’t seem to care about what he’s doing on screen. I imagine they did this film in one take and thought that made it unique, rather than reflect lazy filmmaking. Of course it would be easy to simply say that this film shouldn’t be taken seriously, and that’s true, but there’s a difference between entertaining and just plain boring.
Statham and Li provide the only semblance of acting but this is below both of them — a disturbing idea considering Statham’s dark past with the “Transporter” and “Crank” films and Li’s martial arts flops like “Fearless” and “The One”. Terry Crews is too underused, simply making a few comments about big explosives. The man behind some fantastic Old Spice commercials deserves more. I will admit it’s pretty entertaining to watch Lundgren, as Gunner Jensen, in his biggest budget movie of the last 15 years.
Nostalgia only takes a film so far before it has to do some work — just ask all the failed sequels that didn’t put in the effort of the film before. “The Expendables” wants to be the end-all action film, but, sadly, it just shows that the genre will die with many of these actors.
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