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The Expendables 3 (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Ronda Rousey

Written By: Sylvester Stallone (also story), Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

Directed By: Patrick Hughes

The Short Version

The old boys are back for another round, and they’ve brought some new blood along for the ride.

“New blood” is a figure of speech, mind.  This is pretty watered down.

Never the less, things do explode, and butts do get kicked.

Ronda Rousey need to be in more action flicks.

For old school action fans, The Expendables 3 works, but it feels like it was made for video.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEAP CHEESE PIZZA.

A little greasy and not as hot as it should be, but let’s be honest: you knew it’d be that way as soon as you ordered it, didn’t you?


Pairs Well With...

PBR LIGHT.

Retro, and a bit watered down.

“I’m the knife before Christmas.”


Four years ago, seemingly all of the testosterone on Earth came together to form The Expendables, and those who fondly recalled the bygone Golden Age of Action Movies ravenously bought in.  I know I did.  Two years later, the sequel arrived, and while there wasn’t quite the same enthusiasm all around, lots of people still bought in.  Again, I know I did.  And now we have what Sly Stallone savvily refers to as the one that will decide whether or not they’ve really got a franchise: The Expendables 3.

Thanks in part to some well-publicized and heavily downloaded prerelease pirating, a lot fewer people bought in for the first weekend than the suits at the studio were hoping for.  But despite my own misgivings, I still bought in.

My misgivings were primarily based on something I saw in the bottom left corner of the later pre-release posters: a PG-13 rating.  When there were just little whispers that The Expendables 2 might – might – end up with a PG-13 rating, fans voiced their outrage, and the Powers That Be sensibly listened and gave us the R rating that we wanted and expected.  Not so this time, and so I walked in wondering “what the hell were they thinking?”

I’m sure the usual nonsense about broadening the audience had something to do with it (can that myth about the PG-13 rating just go away, please?), but the more I think about it, the more familiar it gets.  That leads me to the key question of the whole exercise:

How much of a fan of the Golden Age of Action Movies are/were you, really?  Did you dump the Kickboxer flicks after they went straight to video, or did you go all the way down the Cannon rabbit hole?  Did you have fun with American Ninja 2, or stick it out with Dolph when stuff like The Last Warrior hit the shelves at Blockbuster?  Do you even know that there are a bunch of sequels to Universal Soldier?

If your fandom takes a hike once the big Hollywood budgets go away, then you’re probably going to see The Expendables 3 as one hell of a disappointment.  But if you were there for the video store era (in person or in spirit) and kept saying “yes” to the sequels and the star vehicles – and especially if you took that long, long journey down the Cannon Films rabbit hole – then there’s a familiar quality (and I use that word deliberately) to The Expendables 3 that might just give it a place at your table anyway, right next to the delivered pizza and the cheap beer and all of those midnight rentals of old.

If you’re still with me at this point, you know that the plot really doesn’t matter, but since we agree to pretend that it does, here you go.  Barney (Sylvester Stallone, Cobra) and the boys bust an old pal, Doc (Wesley Snipes, Demolition Man), out of prison.  Another old pal, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon), sends one of the crew to the hospital, clinging to life by a thread.  Barney doesn’t want the responsibility of putting the rest of his comrades in arms at risk anymore, so he disbands the team.  Barney still wants to take down Stonebanks, so he puts together a new team of younger people whom he’s never met before.

Nope; the logic there doesn’t fly for me, either.  But I went down that Cannon rabbit hole back in the day, so logic doesn’t concern me here.  If that also describes you, then you’ve already figured out that the shit will hit the fan again and everyone, young old, will eventually be there for the explosive finish at the abandoned architectural ruin, because That’s How It’s Always Done.  Boom.

Brainy action?  Not so much.  But even the least forgiving of movie goers couldn’t have been expecting any such thing from The Expendables 3, anyway, so what about the relevant stuff, like the stars and the fights and the explosions?

Well…

While the first two Expendables flicks did a fairly decent job of being true ensemble pieces, The Expendables 3 definitely picks and chooses its favorites, and it does a mixed job in terms of picking up new recruits.  Starting with the latter point first, the new “old guys” come off with the best shine.  Wesley Snipes gets star treatment here, on and off, and he even has the good humor to make jokes at his own expense. (Two words: “tax evasion.”)  Antonio Banderas (Assassins) is wonderfully manic as Galgo, Kelsey Grammer (X-Men: The Last Stand) does very well in what on the surface may have seemed an unlikely turn, and even though Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark) kinda cakewalks it, most actors would be happy to equal a Harrison Ford cakewalk any day of the week.  Meanwhile, the new “young bloods” don’t do much to impress, with the single exception of MMA champion Ronda Rousey, despite the fact that the script tries to treat her character as a “token female” at nearly every turn.  (Rousey does as much as the script will allow to rise above that, and let’s be honest: she is one of the two most capable real world fighters in this cast.)  The young guys… well, the script treats them as “token bad boys,” and they don’t play above being tokens, especially the ex-werewolf biker boy (Kellan Lutz, Immortals).  Meanwhile, Jet Li (Hero) – the cast’s other most capable real world fighter – ends up with nothing bigger than a glorified cameo that takes zero advantage of his fighting skills, and Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion) gets to be little more than semi-angry statuary.  Jason Statham (Death Race) gets some lines, but they play more like the result of contract negotiation than they do anything meaty.

As for our villain Mr. Gibson, he shows up and does what he has to do, but there’s just none of the panache that he brought to the equivalent role in last year’s Machete Kills.  I call “paycheck.”

So, if you’re showing up for the sake of your favorite star – a standard pastime for the action genre – your overall level of happiness is going to vary wildly depending on your hero of choice.  (Picking winners, I’d say Snipes, Banderas, and Rousey.  I really want to see more action flicks from Rousey.)

Now for that thing I was mentioning about how familiar The Expendables 3 would look to those who’ve been down the Cannon rabbit hole… or for those who remember what Millennium/Nu Image productions used to look like, back when they were strictly a video house.  Specifically, I’m talking about the watered down approach to presenting this flick.  After two balls-to-the-walls R-rated violence festivals, the PG-13 brakes are on and the results look a lot like the cheesy direct-to-Blockbuster flicks of old.  (You know: the sort that the first film in this series was supposed to help lift its original stars out of.) You’ll have to look damn hard to find any blood in this movie – digital or otherwise; personally, I count one bloody shirt and mouth trickle and a photograph or two.  That’s it, even though you’re supposed to believe you’re watching things like a giant knife slash somebody’s throat and so on.  (Shout out to the American Ninja franchise on that one, am I right?)  Sure, stuff goes “boom,” but it’s not very impactful “boom.”  The gunplay is standard stuff, and even the best fighters are lucky to display even a portion of what they’re really capable of.  (Again, Ronda Rousey does her best, but the cameras and the editor aren’t up to the task of keeping up with her.  And talk about halfhearted direction…)  With that said, for in-one-eyeball-and-out-the-other action, it works, particularly for those of us who enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) putting up with a lot worse on home video watched with the aid of cheap liquor at midnight.  But, if modern Hollywood has spoiled you… an extravaganza it ain’t.

The occasionally embarrassing visual effects with regard to backgrounds and greens screens don’t help, either.  (Walking away from the helicopter.  That’s all I’m going to say.)  And sure, I laughed at the one liners – it’s hard to go wrong with a callback to “Get to the choppa!” – but even those often seem half hearted and forced.  The final karaoke choice is clever, but… yeah.

And so, when all was said and done, I walked out of the theatre feeling as though I’d just watched a big budget direct-to-video action flick.  For some people, that counts as welcome nostalgia and fun had.  It did for me, anyway, though I will say that I was hoping for a lot more than I got.

Bottom line, if you’re a diehard fan of the Golden Age of Action Movies, it’s worth the effort to see The Expendables 3 on the big screen, if for no other reason than to throw some support to the genre before Hollywood decides to kill it again.  Otherwise, this flick plays like it was made for home video anyway, and it’s easy enough to wait and let it settle in there.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2014


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