I think when every red-blooded male heard that Sylvester Stallone was putting together a film that contained some of the most popular action stars from the 80’s and today, they got all googly-eyed as if they had just seen the gates of cinema heaven. I should know. I was one of them. It wasn’t long after then that I discovered actors like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have nothing more than cameos in the potential blockbuster. Booo. Nevertheless, the active lineup is still impressive. Then as recently as this week, Lionsgate began pulling press screenings of the film. I don’t know the real reason they did this, but I do know studios will occasionally do this when they lack confidence in their production. Uh-oh. Did this spell doom for The Expendables or was someone’s lack of faith unfounded?
Co-written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, the story follows a group of highly trained, highly efficient mercenaries affectionately known as “The Expendables,” who don’t just sell out to the highest bidder, but rather offer their services to the greater good of the U.S. of A. After an early bumpy ride with one of their teammates, group leader Barney Ross (Stallone) makes the decision to cut one of his co-workers from the roster for the better of the team. Ross and his group, consisting of right hand man Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and UFC champ Randy Couture, form one very tough, nearly unstoppable military force. Fellow good guy Tool, played by Mickey Rourke, also makes an entrance here and there as the retired but wise tattooing sage of the unit.
The Expendables are ultimately tasked with a ‘to hell and back’ job on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico where a dictatorship (David Zayas; Dexter) has overwhelmed the innocent civilians of the coastal landscape. Things aren’t as they seem, however, when American involvement tied to the corrupt island leader is discovered. WWE veteran Stone Cold Steve Austin grabs some screen time as the yes-man muscle of his boss, James Munroe, played by The Dark Knight mobster, Eric Roberts. It becomes apparent that the Expendables team will have little choice but to descend upon the island and do what they do best…squeeze triggers and blow s%+# up.
Earlier on Friday, reports starting coming through from a handful of press around the country who did get to see the film. It wasn’t good. Little was mentioned about the action or lack thereof, while focusing heavily on a weak script. Leave it up to Why So Blu to clarify. Yes, the script is weak, toilet fodder actually, but the action is definitely present, especially in the second half of the film where it is front and center put-your-seatbelt-on present. I know what some of you may be thinking about that script comment too. “Who cares how bad it is?! I just wanna see those guys blow stuff up!” Yes, well, all the pyrotechnics in the world do not make a movie good. People still need to speak in some convincing manner to carry the film when the scene doesn’t involve a grenade or a bullet.
Stallone and Statham work well together, as does Li when he zips around the set in front of the camera. Still, the rah-rah lines trying to induce teamwork come up a little short at times, and if anything, conjure a snicker for how bad they sound. No actors, however, are as bad in the film as that of Mr. Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lundgren. He was far better as a pissed off communist with an evil glare and a hard right than as the Scandinavian mercenary Gunner Jensen here. With all that being said and despite some questionable green screen shots, I managed to find at least a little forgiveness in my heart when the action floodgates opened up in the second half of the film. It was a beautiful thing. There were enough emptied clips, thrown knives, landed punches, drop kicks, body slams, and fiery blasts to keep me happy for weeks. Everything you hoped for (minus Arnold and Bruce Willis) happened in the thankfully lengthy and spectacular sequence that was assembled.
The Expendables doesn’t meet a lot of the criteria necessary for the film to be loved by amost, but it is a fun ride. As a result, the various early ratings of 3 out of 5 stars for the film are accurate in my opinion. The action is an extremely major saving grace here, from the melee to the gun battles, it was all wonderfully captured. This movie won’t be making any top-ten list of mine, but I do give big props to Stallone for putting this production together. The guy knows what fans want. Who else would have been able to go out and sign this roster of actors and athletes? If it came down to it, The Expendables could pass as the last big hurrah of action films, should such a travesty of the genre ever occur.