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Saturday, August 14, 2010

You Can Put Some Cheesy Faith Into The Expendables

The Expendables: 3 out of 5 Stars
Lee Christmas: You sure? You're not as fast as you used to be.
Barney Ross: The only thing faster is light.
Leading up to the release of The Expendables, the main joy came from the fact that Sylvester Stallone had managed to pull together a ton of action stars, from multiple decades, all in for one seemingly cheesy action movie. While the film certainly delivered in that respect, I found the overall result to be more fun as an idea to be excited for and to talk about than when actually viewing the film. Both the hard-hitting action and stupidity on display certainly made me enjoy the film overall, but I can't help but think it could have embraced its over-the-top concept for better results.

Stallone stars as big Barney Ross, (and from this point on I'll only use the actor's names, because who really cares what character they play?) the leader of a mercenary group, which also includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Dolph Lundgren. This is of course a team of experts when it comes to killing bad guys and making sure they are deader than they thought they'd be when they woke up that morning. The opening scene sets everything up, as Team Awesome infiltrates a Somalian pirate ship, engages the adversaries, has some quick banter between each other, and then manages to kill all the pirates with little effort and saving the hostages involved. Yeah, these guys are good.

The plot kicks in to gear soon after this, when Team Awesome's handler, played by Mickey Rourke (presumably wearing his own clothes), leads them to another job assignment. This assignment is further detailed in the film's big cameo sequence. It appears that an island in South America is overrun by bad guys (corrupt generals, rogue CIA, etc.) and it's up to Team Awesome to stop them, provided they get paid the right amount. There's also some minor details about Stallone's mindset, and dealing with the morality of what he believes is worth fighting for, which is balanced out with a build up to the final suicide mission that will require many explosions.

The main problem I had with this movie is that it didn't seem to say "screw it" until way late in the film. By this, I mean the film decides to try and be "good" for too long, before dissolving into what is basically a twenty minute stretch of non-stop, ridiculous action. Sure, there are some action sequences beforehand, along with a lot of very cheesy moments, but I honestly didn't think the film was having enough fun with how ridiculous it was until it reached its final section.

For example, there is a scene near the middle of the film involving Mickey Rourke and Stallone. Rourke tries to impart some wisdom on to Sly by giving this monologue, filmed in a close-up, and full of great material to deliver. Rourke knocks it out of the park, despite looking as if he literally had a break from Iron Man 2 and walked over to the set of his buddy, Sly's movie, but you know what? This scene seems to be from a different movie; A better movie.

For the most part, despite the acting and dialogue coming from many of the people involved, this film tries to be a quality production. In terms of the way it’s put together, Stallone's direction seems to imply that he was putting together a film for today, opposed to a film from the 80s. Again, this is a tricky sort of element to explain, but suffice it to say, the film didn't feel like as much of a throwback to older action flicks as it should have.



Now, getting past these elements, there is a lot to enjoy here. The action, despite having a bit too much close-up frenziness in spots, along with CG bloodshed, did manage to go into hilarious over-the-top mode when it needed it. I don't know if there are any signature action moments (save for a plane sequence) that will really carry on into the future like some others from past films, but the mix of gun-play, hand-to-hand, car chases, and go-for-broke explosions certainly kept things varied.

In terms of the principles involved, it's probably safe to say that Statham emerges as the man to beat here, not too surprisingly. His established persona mixed with this film's efforts to imbue him with amazing knife skills certainly work greatly in his favor. Despite the film making sure to give everyone their moment to "shine," I don't have much to say for the rest of this cast. Stallone does his thing as the leader, Li gets short jokes tossed his way, Lundgren (a bit ironically, if you know anything about this man) is saddled with being an untrustworthy dummy, and Terry Crews is just as enjoyable as always, and gets to carry a big gun. I almost forgot to mention Eric Roberts as the sleazy bad guy, but then I realized you could probably hear him chewing scenery from where you are sitting. And I also can't leave out Stone Cold Steve Austin, who makes sure you know that he's the one bad ass Texan in South America.

What it comes down to, is if I had fun. I'll say I did. It's kind of a low recommendation however, because my fun was more derived from just seeing a lot of (let's face it) meatheads come together on screen and try to out muscle each other. There is a lot of terrible dialogue exchanged back and forth (and a fairly slow build early on as well), which I could say was done on purpose to resemble the old days, but the film doesn't feel like it has that sort of tone. Its grittiness and cheesiness don't work well at the same time.

It would be nice to say that this film worked as a throwback, but I don't think it did. It's still cheesy, loud, ridiculous, and full of ludicrous action; but still more fun as the kind of idea stemming from mixing together action figures opposed to having seen it filmed for real.
[Barney shoots a surprise baddie right over Lee's head]
Lee Christmas: Are you crazy? You could've killed me!
Barney Ross: You're welcome!

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