Main cast: Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Charisma Carpenter (Lacy), Jet Li (Ying Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunner Jensen), Eric Roberts (James Munroe), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Terry Crews (Hale Caesar), Steve Austin (Paine), Giselle Itié (Sandra), David Zayas (General Garza), Gary Daniels (The Brit), and Mickey Rourke (Tool)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
The Expendables is exactly what it says on the box: this is a spectacular B-grade movie full of explosions and senseless killing. We have a team of mercenaries led by Barney Ross and his second-in-command, Lee Christmas. Gunner Jensen is the crazy one. The others are, listed according to the screen time given to them, Yin Yang, Toll Road, and Hale Caesar. To call them stereotypes is to be kind as I’d wager that you won’t remember the names of any of these characters by the end of the movie. In this movie, Eric Roberts has finally snapped and, with Stone Cold Austin by his side, takes over some island in the Gulf of Turkey and lets his hammy style of acting loose on the poor locals. Sandra, our heroine, makes a lot of noise about wanting to save her people from the bad acting of Mr Roberts, but she’s actually a damsel in distress forced by the script to have a creepy quasi-love thing with Sylvester Stallone.
On the bright side, there is plenty of beautiful violence in this movie. Heads fly, people get gutted, random mooks get stabbed in the neck, and our heroes are armed with big phallic machine guns that they let loose on the general population of mooks in the name of righteous justice. Fans of Jet Li may not appreciate that his character is a butt monkey in this movie and Yin Yang is never allowed to win a fight single-handedly, but he does deliver the kicks and punches. It is always a pleasure to watch Mr Li in action, and Jason Statham always has a cheeky grin and knowing twinkle in his eye as he effortlessly steals his scenes from Sylvester Stallone. Poor Terry Crews and Randy Couture are relegated to comic relief characters in their brief screen time, but they do deliver in their limited roles.
The movie, however, has one big flaw: for far too long in the movie, Mr Stallone decides to hog the screen time for himself, Mickey Rourke, and Dolph Lundgren.
Growing old in Hollywood is not the same as what happens to the rest of us mere mortals. After a certain period of time, all that drugs, pointless sex, and alcohol begin to form a permanent tattoo on one’s head, branding that person as a walking bag of hard partying and rampant self abuse for all to see. When a former golden celebrity grows old, the transformation from beautiful immortal to wrinkled hag is never more apparent. Of course, there is no shame in becoming a walking portrait of Dorian Grey – when you have it, you may as well abuse it – but subjecting a hapless audience to the horrific transformation is a different story. It is just not done.
Someone obviously didn’t pass the memo to Sylvester Stallone because not only did he direct and co-write The Expendables, he gave himself star billing and the most screen time in this movie. In addition, he brings on board his fellow Walking Bags of Wasted Flesh, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren, and subject them to the audience for far more than the other characters in the team that is supposed to be the pivotal focus of this movie. Mickey Rourke can be forgiven, as he can bring on the drama – once upon a time, before the drugs and women and alcohol aided age and gravity in demolishing his outer beauty, he was actually a pretty decent actor. But there is no excuse for Dolph Lundgren because that man has let himself go to the point of no return and he has the acting ability of a tree stump. All three men combined have as many wrinkles as Steven Tyler, they all look like they haven’t bathed since their last breakout movies, and, you know, all that ugly on the screen surely can’t be healthy to watch for about one hour and thirty minutes.
Mr Stallone isn’t that bad, but given his dead-eyed stare and frozen face, he lets his scenes be stolen by Jason Statham in every scene they are in together (and we are talking about many scenes here). When the movie focuses on him, the movie comes to a complete standstill. Watching gray paint dry on a wall is far more entertaining than watching Mr Stallone trying to emote. Hey, fans of this guy should know by now that the man has an easier time battling constipation than emoting on screen. But there is really no way to forgive this man for giving himself the most screen time and abusing that opportunity to give the audience a vacant blank stare, is there? Everyone acts rings around this man, even the anonymous extras, and it’s really sad how Mr Stallone is actually expendable in this movie.
If I were given the opportunity, I’d do some switches in casting that would make this movie more watchable. Out go the hideous leathery old couches that are the Misters Stallone and Lundgren – Mickey Rourke can stay since he’s a halfway decent actor. The pointless cameo of Arnold Schwarzenegger is embarrassing – cut, cut, cut. In fact, I’d even bring in new scriptwriters – this movie’s attempts to pay tribute to the popular roles of the actors in this movie prior to this are embarrassing. I’d let Jason Statham’s character be the leader of the team, with the team being reduced from six to four, and ban Eric Roberts from ever acting again. Oh, and I’d remove all the boring bits in the middle and ramp up the violence by at least 300%. Seriously, when the best bits of this movie come from the team’s gleeful butchering of their victims using the most cheerfully gory methods available, it makes sense to ramp up this aspect of the film.
As it is, The Expendables is an occasionally glorious action flick ruined by dramatic bits involving wrinkled old bags who can’t emote to save their lives. If we remove the ugly and up the violence, this would have been a perfect guilty pleasure. As it is, I’d recommend the last third of the movie to action fans and advise them to skip all the bits that came before that point.