Synopsis: Sylvester Stallone stars as Barney Ross, leader of The Expendables, a tight-knit team of skilled combat vets turned mercenaries. Hired by a powerful covert operator, the team jets off to a small South American country to overthrow a ruthless dictator. Once there, they find themselves caught in a deadly web of deceit and betrayal. Using every weapon at their disposal, they set out to save the innocent and punish the guilty in this blistering action-packed thriller.
The Expendables 6.5
eyelights: Jason Stratham. Jet Li. the outrageous action.
eyesores: Sylvester Stallone. Mickey Rourke. the dialogues. the editing style.
When ‘The Expendables’ was first announced I rolled my eyes. Stallone lost me years ago (and I was never a major fan in the first place), but the idea of a 60-year-old doing large-scale action films and rounding up other aging action heroes (some of whom I’ve actually never heard before) to add luster to his fading star smelled of desperation. It sounded like a gimmick, and not necessarily a good one.
However, word eventually got around that it was a good ’80s-style action film: dumb, fun and LOUD. But done with a modern touch. That sounded appealing to me: sometimes, I’m in the mood for something that done blow up real good, ya know? Sometimes, after a hard day, all you want to do is turn off your brain and watch something exciting. Say what you will about ’80s action films, but they did exactly that.
Finally, based on this general consensus, I figured I might give it a shot. Why not? So, when I got the chance to pick up the Blu-ray (if you’re going to watch !@#$ get beat and shot to crap, you want it to look and sound AMAZEBALLS) for 5$, I decided to take the leap. I was in no real hurry to see it, but I figured that I now had the chance whenever the time came. And that time came when a buddy and I were looking for something to stimulate our eyes and ears.
Frankly, I was disappointed.
While ‘The Expendables’ does a good job of pumping up the testosterone levels and over-stimulating its audience, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I expected it to be; it felt very plain, unexceptional. It wasn’t like the romps one used to get back in the day. But then again, what I had in mind was something along the lines of Schwarzenegger’s better material, or ‘Lethal Weapon’ or ‘Die Hard’. You know, great action, excellent casts and characters, good balance of humour versus suspense…
Alas, what we got was something more akin to moronic fare like ‘Rambo: First Blood, part II’. Well, that’s not entirely fair, but I am deeply frustrated to have wasted time watching this, when we could have wasted our time with something probably more tongue-in-cheek like ‘Machete’ (the fact that I would consider ‘Machete’ a step up is saying something, evidently…). Dammit, I should have known… Stallone’s previous movie was a Rambo picture. Me so stoopid.
Honestly, looking at his recent output, I don’t know how Stallone ever won an Academy Award. He wrote and directed ‘The Expendables’ and, quite frankly, it’s no ‘Citizen Kane’ or ‘Annie Hall’. While the film is put together relatively well, it’s nothing worth noting. But, most of all, the dialogue is unbelievably uninspired. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it downright awful, but it’s trite and unusually unfunny – even Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis’ much-ballyhooed huddle was forced and lacking wit:
Trench: “Oh, like I said. I’m busy anyway, so give this job to my friend here. He loves playing in the jungle. Right?”
Barney Ross: “Right.”
Mr. Church: “That’s right.”
Trench: “Hey, why don’t we have dinner?”
Barney Ross: “Sure. When?”
Trench: “In a thousand years?”
Barney Ross: “Too soon.”
[Trench walks off]
Mr. Church: “What’s his fucking problem?”
Barney Ross: “He wants to be president.”
Making matters worse is that we couldn’t understand any of Stallone’s bloody mumbles! He’s always had a bit of a challenge with his delivery, but I wish that he’d gotten himself a speech therapist years ago to overcome this impediment. It’s not like he didn’t have the money. Now, virtually a senior (at the time of this film), he is incomprehensible. Without subtitles, I don’t know what the heck he’s babbling about; his mouth sounds -and looks- like it’s stuffed with cotton balls. Perhaps he imagined himself The Godfather…?
The rest of the cast gets by as good as a bunch of action dudes ever could – which is to say don’t expect too much. Only Jason Stratham, Jet Li and Eric Roberts are worth watching here. Anyway, what matters most is the action (that’s the point of the picture, isn’t?). And ‘The Expendables’ delivers: it features tons of actions. Any excuse for a fight scene or a chase is followed-up on with gusto – and some of it was actually chuckle-friendly, serving up hits and stunts that were outrageous enough to elicit laughs.
The key problem though is twofold: 1) many of these actors are well past their prime, 2) Stallone edited the action sequences in that modern style – in such a way that we never really know what the heck is going on.
On the first point, we have to consider that Stallone was about 63 years old at the time that this was made. There can’t be too many near-seniors who can do rough and tumble action stuff to the same level as young men do. Stallone barely keeps up. In fact, watching his belabored running was painful. And it extends to the rest of the cast. Perhaps it was the way everything was filmed, but Jet Li seemed slower than usual, Dolph Lundgren less powerful (yet, still imposing), …etc.
On the second point, I must bemoan (likely for the nth time) this new way of editing action sequences so that it’s all cut-cut-cut-cut and you actually don’t really see anything. First off, it takes away the point of doing action stunts if the audience can’t savour the skill involved or its cleverness. Secondly, as my buddy reflected, one can’t connect emotionally to parts of a movie if there isn’t time allowed for it. So true. And even though it’s only action, one wants to connect – that’s why we watch movies.
As for the story, it’s pretty simple: it was designed for action, and nothing but. Any attempt at character development felt contrived and disingenuous at best. Jason Statham’s romantic entanglement? Rubbish. Stallone’s desire to go back and save the girl? Rubbish. The betrayal and unjustified forgiveness of Dolph Lundgren? Rubbish. Mickey Rourke’s sob story? Pure rubbish. It all means nothing and is worth nothing. And that’s too bad, because a good writer would have made the picture feel substantial, meatier – not corny, rehashed.
In the end, I didn’t regret seeing the film. I wish that my friend and I had watched something more riveting or memorable, yes, but seeing ‘The Expendables isn’t the end of the world. Still, it’s a very forgettable action film in a landscape littered with forgettable action films. The only thing that makes it memorable is its cast – and it’s mostly squandered due to poor writing and an editing style that ruined the fight choreography. The most ironic thing in all of this is that the title, while initially meant as an in-joke, couldn’t possibly be more befitting.
Date of viewing: May 29, 2013