(Sorry for the loooong gap between updates. TMBF has been unwell, and it's a good thing we're in the post-summer movie doldrums so that I didn't miss much. But it does mean I'm going to miss Tekken, so apologies if you've been breathlessly awaiting my review of that. Two movies in a row that I just know will be bad is a bit much anyway.)
So the big selling point of The Expendables is that it features this supergroup of action stars, particularly veterans of big cheesy testosterone-laded action flicks of the '80s - and honestly, this is a bit of a gyp. Only Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren qualify; Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger only cameo in one non-action scene. Jason Statham and Jet Li have already done two movies together, so their presence is no big deal. Randy Couture and Terry Crews are not action stars, or at least not stars of any worthwhile stature, and neither is WWE wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Mickey Rourke? Not even close. Fact is, it takes more than an over-muscled icon of masculinity to make an action hero.
And it certainly takes more than that to make a good action movie.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads an elite team of mercenaries comprising Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). Their coordinator is Tool (Mickey Rourke), who offers them a new assignment from a mysterious "Mr. Church" (Bruce Willis) - overthrow the brutal dictator of the island nation of Vilena, General Garza (David Zayas). After meeting their contact Sandra (Giselle Itie) in Vilena, Barney and Lee discover that Garza is being aided by rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts), who is always accompanied by his hulking bodyguard Paine (Steve Austin). They abort the mission - but later Ross, touched by Sandra's devotion and self-sacrifice, decides to return and finish the job.
Kudos to writer-director Stallone for coming up with the kickass concept behind this movie, at least. He reportedly approached Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and a part was written for Wesley Snipes; if they'd been in it, then it might have lived up to its hype. But then they'd have to go up against the lame script - and I'm not talking about the plot. The plot is as simple and serviceable as a deliberately unpretentious action flick should be. I'm talking about the dialogue, which is sorely lacking in exactly the kind of cheesy-yet-hilarious one-liners that a deliberate '80s-throwback action flick should have.
Thing is, for a movie that claims to bring back '80s-style action, it doesn't quite seem to know how. There are times when it feels like it wants to be taken seriously, such as Ross's character arc from mercenary to soldier for a cause, and it's not at all convincing; the catalyst for this change is a heartfelt speech from Tool that comes off as clumsy and awkward. I suppose we should be thankful there's no romance between 28-year-old Giselle Itie and 64-year-old Stallone. There's also a subplot regarding Lee's girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter, slumming it after Buffy and Angel) that's completely unrelated to the rest of the movie, even when it does give us a Statham-vs-bunchagoons fight scene; it just feels like padding.
And yet if it's all not meant to be taken seriously, it still doesn't really work. There's little camaraderie or chemistry amongst what's supposed to be an ensemble cast, and their banter feels forced and contrived. (It's telling that Crews and Couture are kept off-screen for the movie's entire midsection, and that only Statham, Li and Lundgren get any significant screentime alongside Stallone.) There's the much-ballyhooed scene between Stallone, Bruce Willis and a cameo-ing Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is fun - but it's too short, and there should really be more of such entertainingly macho posturing than just one scene. As much as this movie probably couldn't have been made without Stallone helming it, he just doesn't have the tongue-in-cheek touch that it needs.
Which is a good thing then that the last half hour of wall-to-wall action almost makes up for the entire movie. It's still marred by spastic camerawork and editing, but complaining about that is pretty much a lost cause now; it seems it's the only way Hollywood (and sometimes even Hong Kong, sadly) knows how to shoot action anymore. Still, there are some neat touches, such as Yin Yang's and Lee's wicked takedown of one of Munroe's henchmen (Gary Daniels, who is apparently some other B-action-movie star), and Ross's cool quick-reload handgun technique. Most importantly, there's a lot of action, of the brutal, bloody, explodey variety - enough that most audiences ought to leave the cinema feeling like they got their money's worth.
But it's clear that, of the summer of 2010's three "men on a mission" movies, The Expendables is the weakest next to The Losers and The A-Team. And don't give me that "but it's meant to be bad!" argument, because it really wasn't - not in the way that would've made it actually enjoyable. You know what this movie was trying to be, and what it should've been? Predator - the first one. By that standard, this movie just doesn't measure up.
NEXT REVIEW: Repo Men
Expectations: can't be that bad, can it?