“The Expendables,” the new film starring every action star known to man, including Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger (and that’s just the Ss!), is a nostalgia fest celebrating those cinematic days of yore when gangs of mercenaries led by action heroes like Dolph Lundgren could bring down governments and spread the American way of life armed only with an arsenal of guns, knives, grenades and one liners. That the heyday of this kind of movie, and most of the actors in it, was twenty-five years ago is not going to prevent “The Expendables” from kicking butt and lots of it.
In this blood and testosterone splattered story Stallone leads a group of freelance soldiers—knife tosser Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) hand-to-hand expert Ying Yang (Jet Li), sniper Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), big gun toter Terry Crews and MMA superstar Randy Couture—whose motto is “if the money’s right we don’t care where the job is.” When they take a job to bring down a dictator (David Zayas who plays Angel on “Dexter”) and American drug lord (Eric Roberts, whose sister Julia has a very different kind of movie opening on the same day as this one) on the South American Isle of Vilena, however, they may have finally found one hotspot worse than Bosnia, Sierra Leone and all the other hellish places they’ve fought for pay, combined. The only thing than can get them to go back there is—you guessed it—a woman. Cue the explosions.
Like the classic rock that makes up the bulk of the soundtrack from “The Expendables” the whole movie has a familiar ring to it. All the usual direct-to-video action movie clichés are well represented from big guns—6’ 5” Dolph’s guns and knives are almost as big as he is—to tricked out motorcycles and tattoos to tough guy talk—“I’ll cut you up into dog treats!” says one character—but despite guns big enough to turn anything that gets in the way into “instant red sauce and jello” the action scenes aren’t as over-the-top as they should be. Any movie where Action Stars from Another Age©–Stallone, Lundgren, Arnold—meet the up-and-comers—Couture and Crews—should be ninety minutes of trigger happy, mindless manish boy fun, but screenwriters Stallone and David Callaham had to go and ruin the enjoyment by inserting character arcs and God forbid, subtext. Way to ruin a perfectly good action pic Sly.
Not that there aren’t some retina scorching action scenes. Stallone (who also directed) uses each of the individual talents of his actors well—it’s always a pleasure to see Jet Li in action—and several things blow up real good, but when the movie tries to go deep it stumbles. When Mickey Rourke, who plays Tool, a former soldier of fortune who now sets up their engagements—think Charlie on “Charlie’s Angels”—drones on about trying to “save what was left of my soul” it grinds the movie to a near halt.
Luckily the movie’s climax should give action fans what they’re looking for—lots of punching, kicking, flying bullets and knives and a spectacular explosion—but like its Action Stars from Another Age© the rest of film seems a little long in the tooth by that point.