- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Newman
he first of several hundred kills in Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" involves Dolph Lundgren, his this-is-only-seen-in-movies gun, and the splattering of an anonymous terrorist's innards on an adjacent wall. This is the way the action film world ends. Not with a whimper, but a bang.
Like the 70s classic rock that soundtracks the film, 'The Expendables" is comprised of hard, gritty, old action stars arguably – or not, in some cases – past their prime, but still able to imbue the viewer with a fond sense of nostalgia. Let's disperse with the technicalities of plot quickly, lest we give it more weight than co-screenwriter Stallone did. Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader of a group of mercenaries hired by Bruce Willis to infiltrate the fictional South American country of Vilena ostensibly to overthrow the country's dictator. It is giving nothing away that the real mission involves the CIA and a rogue agent played by Eric Roberts, whose greasiness extends to both his hair and moral fiber.
But nobody is watching this movie for plot. What "The Expendables" does, and does well, is pay homage to virtually every action movie of the past 30 years, though dangerously bordering the line between tribute and parody (with action, however, that line is so blurred as to be virtually invisible.) There are explosions, martial arts, broken bones, decapitations, hand-to-hand combat, gun-to-gun combat, missile-to-hand combat, aerial assaults and, yes, a man on fire getting punched in the face. To paraphrase NFL coach Dennis Green, "The Expendables" is what you think it is.
Which makes it all the more difficult to rate this film on a relative good/bad scale. As action films go, the film contains laughably bad dialogue – Dolph Lundgren, mid-fight with Jet Li, tells the martial arts expert to "bring it, happy feet" – and in Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger's cameo appearances, Stallone presents the most melodramatic scene of the year. But if it's homage, maybe the joke's on us, making "The Expendables" either the most self-reflexive action film ever made, or the most ludicrous. I suspect it's a little of both.
As for the cast, let's just say no one exactly goes against type. Mickey Rourke, sounding exactly like his infamous award show speeches from last year, is either the best or the worst actor working today. Clad in a tailored suit and eternal smug, no one can play sleazy like Eric Roberts. And as for Steve Austin, well, if we're sticking with wrestlers, he makes The Rock in "Tooth Fairy" look like Hulk Hogan in "Wrestlemania III." There are also characters named Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Yin Yang (Li). And no, I didn't make that up.
What saves "The Expendables" is the obvious amount of fun the collective cast had making the film. There are scenes that ostensibly look like a bunch of old friends reuniting to talk shit, drink and clown each other that make it into the final cut. And part of the fun, if you're an action movie fan, will be using the film as a launching pad of other where-are-they-now stars whose last names have defined them. Van Damme. Seagal. Norris. Snipes. (The first three allegedly approached by Stallone, but declined for various reasons.)
It can't be coincidence that "The Expendables" is coming out on the same day as Julia Roberts' "Eat, Pray, Love." You can almost smell the expense-account lunch between two greasy Hollywood producers planning this epic gender showdown of the year. So maybe it's a bit absurd that the group's night vision technology allows them to only see the terrorists among a group of hostages. And maybe Stallone and co-writer Dave Callaham could have had Stallone's answer to "How many men you got?" be something more creative than "Just your mother." And maybe the opening shot, a motorcycle with the group's logo of a skull and raven airbrushed on it, was a little over the top. But it may be the most viscerally fun filmgoing experience you'll have this year. Sometimes, your brain says, "I worked hard today, man. I'm gonna take a nap for 90 minutes. Go enjoy." And in the case of "The Expendables” – an equal mix of "Predator," "Navy Seals" and "Wild Hogs" – the best thing you can do is grab a tub of popcorn, round up your male friends and say, "Bring it, happy feet."
Three-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Lionsgate has done a bang-up job with the Blu-ray release of “The Expendables.” Along with an audio commentary by director/actor/co-writer Sylvester Stallone, there’s also a BonusView feature called Ultimate Recon Mode that combines Stallone’s commentary with a picture-in-picture video track and in-depth breakdowns of specific scenes by various members of the cast and crew. Rounding out the set is an excellent, feature-length documentary ("Inferno") about making the film, a look at the post-production process ("From the Ashes"), a short gag reel, and a DVD and digital copy of the movie.