The Expendables isn’t so much an exercise in getting the band back together as a passing of the torch. Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham are the real leads, but everybody who shows up to the party gets their moment in the sun, even if it’s only a brief moment, and it’s cool to see Dolph Lundgren back on the big screen, the man who kicked the door open for all of the post-graduate chemical engineers who aspire to becoming action stars. Sure, there’s not much more to the movie than stuff blowing up and testosterone-fuelled male bonding, but be honest – that was the same deal with the action flicks of the ’80s. It’s no masterwork and it shamelessly panders to nostalgia buffs, but if you’re a nostalgia buff who’s okay with being shamelessly pandered to, The Expendables will deliver the mindless fun you’re looking for.
Plot: Barney Ross (Stallone) is the world-weary leader of a mercenary team who’ll do any kind of insanely dangerous dirty work if you meet his price. He gets another dirty job from Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) by default after Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) turns it down. Enjoy this for the two or three minutes that it lasts – it’s probably the only time you’ll ever see these three sharing the screen.
Anyway, the job involves a taking down the ruthless South American coke lord General Garza (David Zayas) and by the way, if Barney could whack rogue CIA operative James Munroe (Eric Roberts) while he’s at it, that’d be cool. So Barney and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) scope out the situation and after killing about four or five dozen troops with reckless disregard for civilian safety, they decide that this dirty work is too insanely dangerous even for them, though the Token Earnest Revolutionary Damsel (Giselle Itie) is awfully cute. All the Token Damsels in these flicks are awfully cute, dont’cha know.
It takes a heart-rending monologue from Tool (Mickey Rourke) to change Barney’s mind and do the right thing. It’s not a bad monologue. Mickey’s moment in the sun provides the movie’s Token Real Acting and he makes the most of it. Predictably, Barney and the gang go back and blow up the entire island. At least, it sure seemed that way. There are some fearsomely impressive pyrotechnics in The Expendables’ last twenty minutes. Michael Bay must’ve furiously scribbled notes during the premiere.
Should you actually see The Expendables? If you’ve gotta ask the question, the answer is no. It’s a lurching beast that comes to life in fits and starts, and it quickly becomes painfully obvious that dialogue isn’t one of Stallone’s strong suits, nor is it ever likely to be. The romantic subplot is too facile to merit committing to celluloid. The women in this movie are completely marginalized, anyway. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, particularly if you’re well versed in the type of action movies Stallone’s trying to re-create.
On the other hand, if you yelled, “HELL, YEAH!!!” when you first saw that giant cardboard Expendables stand-up in the theater lobby, why are you even reading this? You don’t need to be enticed. You’re drawn to this movie like a moth to a flame. The good news is that you’ll get all of your guilty pleasure’s worth. The fight scenes are intensely brutal, the chases are riveting, and there’s a bit with Jason Statham and a cargo plane that’s a giddy, delirious rush. You’ll be able to watch The Expendables and still respect yourself in the morning.
The Expendables has ambitions that can politely be described as modest and it doesn’t break any new ground. That was pretty much the point of it, anyway. At it’s core, The Expendables is far more sentimental than something like Eat Pray Love could ever hope to be, taking eager viewers back to a cinematic time and place that’ll never come back around again. So if you’ve got a soft spot in your heart for the glory days of summers more than twenty years gone when you saw Predator on opening night and got completely stoked when you heard that they were making a sequel to Die Hard, Stallone knows exactly how you feel. You’re the one he made The Expendables for.