With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis and Eric Roberts. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language. 103 minutes.
They’re going to have to hose down the theaters after screenings of THE EXPENDABLES to avoid ticket buyers succumbing testosterone poisoning. Sylvester Stallone has crafted the sort of action movie that was made in the late ’70s and ’80s, with a cast that’s an action film hall of fame. Jean-Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal will be kicking themselves – or perhaps each other – for having turned Stallone down.
Mr. “Church” (Bruce Willis) has to choose between Barney Ross (Stallone) and his rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to go to an island country and assassinate its dictator. This scene alone is worth the price of admission to action fans, with California Governor Schwarzenegger returning to the screen for a hilarious cameo. Truth be told, Willis is essentially there for a guest shot as well.
Ross gets the gig and is soon on a mission with Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) to check out General Garza (David Zayas of TV’s “Dexter”). Garza is a figurehead with a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts) and his nasty thug (Steve Austin) calling the shots. You don’t really need to know much more of the story than that. Mickey Rourke pops up as a tattoo artist who is buddies with Ross and his fellow mercenaries but has retired from the game.(If he hadn’t he could have been reunited with Roberts, his co-star in 1984’s “The Pope of Greenwich Village”). Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren are fellow mercenaries, although Lundgren’s character is so out of control he’s deemed too violent by the others, which is saying a lot. Fans of the different actors will find each guy gets his moment to stand out, as when Statham rescues his ex-girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) from an abusive boyfriend by taking on all the players in a pickup basketball game (which ends it by him taking out the ball).
What this movie is really about are the explosions, the shootings, and the displays of martial arts. By the time they’ve gone in to rescue the general’s daughter (Giselle Itié) the dialogue doesn’t even matter any more. This is the movie the lame “A Team” wishes it could have been. Stallone deserves credit for taking what could have been a novelty film with a bunch of aging action stars and turning it into a slam bang tribute to the movies these guys used to make (and a few of them still do). He pulls out all the stops in the final battle which includes gunfire, knifings, blowing up a building, and setting one of the bad guys on fire. Needless to say, the film earned its R rating.
“The Expendables” won’t be studied in film school and it won’t win any Oscars. Yet in its dumb, corny and often quite funny way, it’s the action movie of the year. If there’s ever a sequel, look for Seagal and Van Damme to get on board. Maybe they can bring Carl Weathers and Mr. T with them.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.