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The Expendables (2010)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE EXPENDABLES (2010)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke

Written By: Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham (also story) Directed By: Sylvester Stallone

The Short Version

Just look at the cast list.  Go on.  Look at it.

I said look at it!

The action scenes in The Expendables kick major ass.

With that said, it takes itself pretty seriously… perhaps a bit too much so.

Regardless, The Expendables is a must-own for an action fan’s permanent collection.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PARTY PLATTER.

Most of your favorites and some other good stuff you might have missed, all in one place; some sharp, some mellow.  You’d better believe there’s some Cheddar there… and some Swiss.


Pairs Well With...

DOS EQUIS AMBER.

Because if you’re going to have a cerveza – which this flick absolutely demands – you’d better have one that actually tastes like cerveza.

“You should have waited.  I was worth it.”


You know all of those over the counter testosterone pills you see spamming the ad slots during sporting events and late night television?  Forget ‘em.  I’ve got your coming-out-of-your-pores testosterone hit right here.  It’s called The Expendables.

I remember when the first major wave of publicity for The Expendables hit.  It was like a male hormone bomb.  Thirty-and-fortysomething guys in business suits were slavering like freshman frat boys.  Even in an office setting, the f-bomb dial got cranked up to “20,” and everyone’s name became “Dude.”  As in, “Dude, we’ve gotta go see this fuckin’ movie and see it in a fuckin’ theatre on the biggest fuckin’ screen we can find!  And then get fuckin’ wasted afterward!”  Even BBQ pits, beer festivals, or the Super Bowl rarely bring on this kind of raw masculine enthusiasm.

Why, you ask?  You dare ask why?!

Oh, um.  Er, sorry.  But, still.  Dude.  Seriously.  Did you look at that cast list?  That’s Sly and Dolph up there.  Sly and Dolph.  And Jet Li.  And Jason Statham.  Mickey Rourke back from the dead.  Cameos by Bruce Willis and the Governator.  MMA guys.  Steve Austin.  Tack on underappreciated badass in a suit Eric Roberts, and you have got one kickass frat party of mass destruction just waiting to happen.

[Bonus: Steven Seagal was asked to show, but declined because of issues with one of the producers.  Jean-Claude Van Damme was asked to join up but said no; he’s in for the sequel.  Liam Hemsworth signed on but his part was cut; he’s in for the sequel, too.  Wesley Snipes had to pass for the sake of prison. ]

But the question is: did the party really happen?

The fact that it was well attended by the aforementioned cast is party enough for much of the target audience, an audience which in turn showed up for The Expendables in numbers that exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations.  But attendance, of course, does not always a great party make.

As for what does…

Stuff goes “boom” at regular intervals.  A pirate gets literally blown in half by an RPG within the first five minutes.  That’s one hell of a party popper.  Terry Crews carries around a ridiculously loud repeating shotgun.  Picture a Tommy gun on steroids.  Hot damn.  The airplane escape halfway through the movie with Jason Statham at the nose gun is just plain epic.  Whenever there’s an action scene to be played, The Expendables very confidently yells out “Here I am!” and rocks you like a hurricane.  Looking at it from that perspective, it absolutely succeeds at the mission of bringing back some of the spirit of the Golden Age of Action Movies that was the decade between the mid-80s and mid-90s.

For many people, even true fans, that’s really all it needs to do.

And yet, there’s more to it than that.

For one thing, the action heroes have done the same thing that their target audience has: they’ve gotten older, and they’ve changed a little with the times.  Before, it was okay to burn out because the rest of the world betrayed you (John Rambo, for instance), but now, several of the characters openly talk about it happening just because of strain and/or chronology.  Stallone’s character of Barney Ross clearly has it in the back of his mind constantly, wondering when he’ll snap.  He knows – and will even admit – that he’s slowing down.  (How’s that for modern?)  Dolph Lundgren’s character, Gunnar, has turned to meth to deal with the pain.  Randy Couture’s character, Toll Road, sees a therapist.  And Mickey Rourke’s character, Tool, has come to terms with the fact that he’s finished.  Jason Statham’s character, Christmas, wants to hang on to a real, honest-to-goodness relationship with a woman, and even talks about it with his friend Barney.  (Tough guys… talking about grown-up relationships… not even using the words “chicks”…)  Sure, there’s bluster to all of this (including, of course, the obligatory but excellent scene wherein Statham defends his lady’s honor), but there’s also a layer of maturity there that is easily missed by those who don’t want to see it.  Like it or not, the guys are growing up.

This also leads to something else that the old school fans are sure to see but which others have spent a lifetime dismissing out of hand: a lot of these guys are real actors, and always have been.  Doing things hockey style, I’ll pick “Three Stars” of The Expendables.  Third goes to Sylvester Stallone, who definitely shows his chops as the guy who knows that he’s “too old for this shit” (to borrow a cliché from another series), but for whom the hard life is all he has, and who’s resigned himself to sticking with it until it kills him.  Second Star goes to the consistently underrated Dolph Lundgren – hey, guys, didn’t you notice that when The Expendables came out, the one people were most excited to see again was Dolph? – who plays the burned-out merc on meth very, very well indeed.  He does the macho thing, but Dolph gives it a level of nuance that says it’s all from habit, and that Gunnar is actually ready to fall apart at any moment.  If you’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing someone on meth – and I say that in terms of it being unfortunate for the addict – you’ll also see that Dolph has done his homework on playing the functioning tweaker.  First Star of the night, though, has to go to Mickey Rourke, who was always an excellent actor, and who brings his own “took himself to hell and back” life experiences to the table and pours them into the character of Tool, who’s burned out and come through the other side.  Rourke’s monologues are mesmerizing in a way that’s totally unique to him, and that carry a power one just doesn’t usually expect out of an action movie frat party.

And therein lies the Catch-22 of The Expendables.  On the one hand, it’s populated by all of these ass kicking characters who in turn play their way through explosive, testosterone-laden action sequences.  On the other hand, I’m not really sure that they’re having any fun doing it.  The Golden Age of Action that The Expendables is meant to recall was known not only for its explosiveness, but also for its wink-and-nod approach to storytelling and to its wiseass one-liners.  Sure, there are some one-liners here, and even a few extended smartass conversations, but outside of one or two scenes (most notably the Willis/Schwarzenegger cameo, which Willis partially ad-libbed), The Expendables takes itself way too seriously.  It makes constant jokes about Yin Yang’s height and a dozen other things, but it forgets to laugh at them.  This isn’t even comedy with a straight face; it’s potential comedy with no sense of actual comedy.  No winking.  No nodding.  No self-aware fun poking, save again for a brief scene or two.

And so, while The Expendables is indeed nostalgically pleasing and fun in a certain sense, it’s not the all out fiesta that many had hoped it would be.  Good enough to see multiple times, to be sure, but still.  For the total wink-and-nod package, theatre audiences had to wait a couple of weeks for the less heavily marketed (but far more ballsy) Robert Rodriguez action fest known as Machete.

But again, that’s not to say that there’s no fun at all to be had here or that there are no nice touches; quite the contrary.  The title itself is a marvelous reference to one of the most often quoted lines from Rambo: First Blood Part II.  The choice to have Steve Austin’s final duel be against Randy Couture (the scripted wrestler versus the MMA fighter) is brilliant.  (Austin, by the way, is indeed a good choice for a henchman here, but also shows that his acting skills are limited to ring bluster.  He is absolutely no match for the rest of this cast.)  And Eric Roberts may not be a fighter, but there are very few guys who can stand there in a suit and successfully stare down toughs as convincingly as he can, which makes him a very welcome addition to this cast and a most worthy villain.

But… the greatest action party of all time?  I’m not going to go that far.  But even if some of the guests of honor have slowed down and forgotten to laugh at their own jokes, I’m still going to call it a party worth attending.

Bottom line, if you’re any kind of action fan at all, you need to buy The Expendables if you haven’t already.  Having it in your Netflix queue is not enough; it needs to be in your permanent collection.  Think of it as a supporting document for your man card.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012

More From The Bar! | Cobra | The Expendables 2 | Out for Justice |



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