Modest though its promise may be,
The Expendables doesn't live up to it. In fact in a lot
of ways, it's the most disappointing movie of the summer. The
premise suggests a throwback to the cut-and-dried action pictures of
the 1980s - pure action that didn't need much of a brain to be effective,
relying on bold stunts and direct, hard-headed anti-authoritarian heroes.
The casting suggests much the same - Stallone, Eric Roberts, Mickey
Rourke, plus much-touted cameos by Willis and Schwarzenegger, all bring
us back to a time when men were mostly made of muscles, voted Republican,
and hated Russians. The idea of a "reboot" cleverly applied
to a genre rather than a specific franchise seemed to hold a great deal
Instead, The Expendables is just a drag - a boring, one-note action picture that monotonously
goes through the motions, offering a parade of unconvincing pyrotechnics
and awful dialogue, all while barely paying lip service to the pictures
of yore that it intends to salute. And when I say "unconvincing
pyrotechnics," let me be very clear: In this film, a blow-'em-up
featuring explosions galore, the fire looks
fake. It all just made me want to watch Commando again.
Sylvester Stallone - also serving
as director and co-writer - stars as Barney Ross, a mercenary.
It ain't any more complicated than that. He leads a team of
characters played by Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews,
and Randy Couture. They are assigned - by the shady Mr. Church
(Bruce Willis) - to assassinate General Garza, the dictator of a small
fictional island nation. During a recon mission to the island
by Stallone and Statham, the dictator's daughter emerges as the team's
unlikely ally. When she is kidnapped by the evil rogue CIA agent
Monroe (Eric Roberts), who secretly controls the island through the
general, the team's mission becomes more complicated and challenging.
I was expecting nothing more than a
plot-free excursion into the land of Pure Action, but The Expendables
delivers a formless soup of explosions and pointless character moments
that cumulatively add up to a negative in the entertainment column.
The performances are wooden, there is little evidence of a screenplay,
and the visuals are clunky and graceless. Worst of all are the
action sequences, which are incoherent and impossible to track.
Stallone, whose directorial handling of the recent Rambo sequel was firm and swift, favors an impossibly
fast Michael Bay-like approach to these scenes, which, in case anyone
doesn't already know, simply doesn't work. In order for action
to be effectively conveyed onscreen, one must first be able to
see it. Hackneyed, nonsensical editorial "styling"
such as this destroys the work of the technicians, actors, and stuntmen
who plan and participate in such sequences. Their work is rendered
invisible when someone in the editing room makes a decision based on
the belief that teenagers enjoy the visual fuck-you of a seizure-inducing
twenty-four cuts per second. Good action - the kind of action
that is supposed to have inspired The Expendables - is memorable
for what it shows, whether it's guys flying through the air in slow
motion, or buildings being destroyed by spaceships, or cars barreling
at top speed along the Embarcadero. Whatever the thrill, it's
notable first because you can see what is happening in
the context of the action's location, sets, and characters.
Chopping up action beyond all recognition results in the opposite of
tension, and in so doing lays waste any and all storytelling that may
have preceded it.
The performances are hardly worth discussing,
although Jet Li can be credited for eliciting the film's only real
chuckle and Mickey Rourke has a surprisingly effective scene in which
his character - an old associate of Stallone's - talks about being
a mercenary and having a soul that's basically dead weight.
It's nice, brief work. Overall, however, character interactions
are generally meaningless, even in the context of the titular team of
compatriots. Their banter is limited in both scope and believability.
Far from generating a feeling of personal and professional camaraderie,
these guys may as well have just met each other for the sake of making
a lackluster Z-grade action picture with terrible special effects.
is an action movie that is, for all intents and purposes, still in the
discussion stage - it's a concept without a script or a reason to
be made. A film at this stage should only be talked about; the
fact that it was actually shot and edited in this premature form is
a testament to the hunger for clever ideas in Hollywood. And that's
understandable to a point because, as a one-pager on paper, The Expendables
is terrific. On film, it's terrible.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.