The Expendables review


Sylvester Stal­lone is enjoy­ing some­thing of a resur­gence lately, devel­op­ing a kind of “Fuck you, Hol­ly­wood!” atti­tude, and just doing his own thing. Admit­tedly, his own thing is the same thing he’s done before, with new addi­tions to the Rocky, and Rambo can­ons. But they weren’t half bad. Rocky Bal­boa was a huge leap over Rocky V before it, and Rambo had a pleas­ingly nasty feel to it, not skimp­ing on the gore.

No sign of a Cobra sequel though. I sup­pose it’s hard to improve on the story of a cop who eats pizza without tak­ing his leather gloves off first.

And so we come to The Expend­ables. The team com­prises Stal­lone, Statham, Li, Lun­d­gren, and the other two (the other two not being Seagal or Van Damme). They get hired by Bruce Wil­lis to sort out a trouble­some South Amer­ican dic­tat­or­ship, which is under the thrall of Angel Batista from Dex­ter, and a rogue CIA operative.

This is Stallone’s stab at recre­at­ing the feel of those eighties action movies. Back then, the world was a sim­pler place. If a drug lord kid­napped the wife, or murdered the daugh­ter, of your aver­age action hero, did he go through the proper channels?

Of course not. All he needed was… guns, infin­ite ammo, a shoot from the hip policy that hit the tar­get every time, a little roll across the ground that avoided all incom­ing enemy bul­lets, the main bad guy skewered on a spike, a quip tailored to the situ­ation (eg. if the bad guy gets his head chopped up in the rotor blades of a heli­copter: “Don’t lose your head!”), the soft kiss­able lips of a hot babe, and finally, the grudging admir­a­tion of a senior offi­cial who thought our action hero was a loose can­non, but now real­ises that some­times a loose can­non is what you need to get the job done.

Now ima­gine if a load of these action her­oes, nor­mally known for their lone wolf tend­en­cies, were actu­ally in some sort of team together. On paper, it sounds great. How­ever, against all the odds, it’s actu­ally pretty average.

There’s a strange, awk­ward atmo­sphere when the whole team are together onscreen. The team banter dur­ing action free down­time, designed to show that they’re a bunch who go back a long way, rings false. They sit around, queuing up to say their lines, rather than hav­ing proper con­ver­sa­tions. Here, and else­where, funny lines are hammered home, with char­ac­ters either say­ing one line too many, mak­ing sure we “get it”, or leav­ing poten­tially amus­ing con­ver­sa­tions hanging in mid air without a punchline.

For a huge chunk of the movie, mem­bers of the team also go AWOL, leav­ing the film pretty much a Statham/Stal­lone buddy movie. This is actu­ally the bet­ter part of the film. When the other team mem­bers ree­m­erge, there’s no sense that they’ve been doing any­thing much in the mean­time. It’s as if they’ve been wait­ing stage left for the last half hour. Nat­ur­ally, this applies more to Randy Cou­tureand Terry Crews, who don’t have the box office his­tory of the rest of the team. For back­story or any kind of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment (aside from, “Hey! I’m the guy with the biggest gun!”), they get the bum deal.

When the team finally gets down to the job at the hand, together, as a unit (thanks to a little cry by Mickey Rourke), much of the action is chop­pily edited, and takes place in con­fined spaces, with the cam­era quickly jump­ing from one char­ac­ter to the next. I could just about make out what was going on, but I had to work pretty hard. There are little pock­ets of action in this last sec­tion that are inspired, but mostly, it’s hum­drum stuff.

Sur­pris­ingly, it’s Dolph Lun­d­gren who steals the film. Rarely have I seen him more anim­ated. He’s prob­ably the only one (apart from Statham) who gets some mileage out of the ropey dia­logue. Des­pite look­ing a bit old and knackered, he shows newer action stars, like Steve Aus­tin (with face per­man­ently set to a tedi­ous ‘pissed off’), how it’s done.

Ulti­mately, the story is so rub­bish, and the bad guys so bor­ing, it’s hard to care whether The Expend­ables live or die.