Four years ago, Sylvestor Stallone was a washed-up action star. For the last decade, many of his movies went straight to video and the ones that did make it to theaters reminded audiences and critics alike that Stallone was well past his peak. With his age becoming a factor, it was highly unlikely Stallone could ever become relevant again. And yet, in the last few years, Stallone has quietly rebooted his career. Sure, he returned to his roots with Rocky Balboa and Rambo, but those films, both of which were surprisingly good, indicated that Stallone had finally accepted what his remaining fans wanted of him. Box office success followed, and now he's back with his latest directorial product: The Expendables, a movie that truly harkens back to the glory days of 80's action films.
The Expendables stars Stallone as one of several pay-for-hire mercenaries who decide to take on a corrupt dictator (David Zayas) and his American supporter (Eric Roberts). The plot is less important than the cast Stallone has compiled: The Expendables is most notable for its collection of action "stars," which include Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Steve Austin. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger make cameo appearances.
First, the positives: the action scenes are good. Very good, and at the very least a lot of fun. Just like in Rambo, Stallone unleashes a fury upon an army of unnamed soldiers at the end of The Expendables; people die in piles, blood splatters everywhere and explosions light up the screen. The action scenes are well executed and prove that Stallone and his co-stars still have it in them to deliver excitement.
Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. Everything else is a cluster.
First and foremost, the writing is terrible. The characters spout off one-liners on a regular basis, but the one-liners are neither memorable nor funny. Every dialogue-driven scene, save for one well-written moment with Mickey Rourke (I wouldn't be surprised if he just winged it), is excruciatingly painful. And since the writing is bad, the acting is dreadful.
Stallone and Statham hold their own and have decent chemistry with one another, but Li comes off as a secondary character despite his top billing. Lundgren reminds us why he never became a major leading man to begin with, and Couture is just downright painful to listen to. Luckily, Austin doesn't talk much. Terry Crews is pretty good, and gets the best weapons.
Sadly, the script by Dave Callaham and Stallone fails to establish why many of these characters work together and why we, as an audience, should care. The A-Team, which was released earlier this summer, did a good job of establishing the characters, setting the stage and driving home the plot; The Expendables is the antithesis of that film. The plot is a patchwork of cliché jokes (which aren't at all funny) and cheesy serious moments, none of which make any sense in the context of the bigger picture. Stallone includes a sub-story about Statham's relationship with his girlfriend, but its only purpose is to serve as a vehicle to feature another actress and allow Statham to beat up some douche bags on a basketball court. The development of Lundgren's character makes no sense; he flips out so early in the movie his actions later on don't have the emotional impact Stallone was shooting for. The scenes between villains Zayas and Roberts are clunky at best.
Speaking of clunky, the cameo scene with Willis and Schwarzenegger is extremely awkward and not nearly as cool as action fans would expect. Sadly, Stallone attempts to use this scene as a pivotal moment in the story, but it's so bad that not only is the audience distracted throughout but Stallone never attempts to tie up the subsequent loose ends later on.
It's a shame, because The Expendables could have been good had Stallone just kept things simple. Instead, he tries to complicate the story with subplots and deeper themes that misfire so greatly that they distract from the otherwise competent action sequences.
Unfortunately, the movie also looks like an 80's action movie; compared to the most recent Rambo, which was extremely slick and gritty, The Expendables looks surprisingly second rate. Surely some of this was intentional, but the movie would have kicked much more ass had Stallone brought the same intensity of Rambo to this picture.
The Expendables has its moments and some fun action scenes, but the action isn't enough to overcome the movie's deficiencies. Wait until DVD so you can fast forward appropriately.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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