Review – The Expendables

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 08/11/10

I love action movies. Not in the safe way that a lot of people love them; distanced, ironic, stashing their pleasure behind the descriptor “guilty,” and laughing at the movie as often as they laugh with it. When I say I love “The Rock,” I love it un-ironically. When I put 2008’s “Rambo” on that year’s 10-best list, I meant that shit. The kineticism, the viscera, the speed, the weight – these are things action cinema can offer in ways no other genre of film can, and it’s why many are willing to forgive genre classics like “Commando” for shortcomings like perfunctory plot, hammy acting and razor thin characterization. Those things are all secondary, even tertiary, to the thrill of watching people get utterly ruined in ridiculiciously brutal ways. I love a good action movie, man.

The Expendables is a big piece of shit. It couldn’t be a bigger piece of shit if its name was Womack. And it’s not like it had a particularly high bar to reach. I’m referencing “The Rock,” but I’m not using that as the measuring stick. I’m not even using Stallone’s last film, although that’s a very fair comparison point. For me, personally, all this movie had to do was improve on “The Losers,” Sylvain White’s braindead mercs-on-a-mission film from the beginning of the summer. With that criteria? Forget generous, I was being goddamned charitable to “The Expendables,” considering I thought “The Losers” sounded like a script written by a 15 year old’s boner, and looked like it was directed by Tony Scott with a massive headwound. And yet “The Expendables” still falls short.

You know what’s really disappointing? It’s not the plotting, or the acting, or the characterization. As an action fan, I can forgive those things their absence, if the action is done properly. Well, those things are sure as shit absent from this movie, and the action is bad. Not “okay,” not “serviceable.” It’s bad. I mentioned “Commando” earlier; this movie is like if “Commando” got sloppy drunk and started oversharing with strangers at the bar, and all you want to do is slowly slink away before something unfortunate happens. By “unfortunate,” I mean the story.

Bruce Willis plays The Plot. He sends a message to Mickey Rourke, who plays Leather Gandalf, a pipe-smoking tattoo artist. Leather Gandalf passes the tip on to Sylvester Stallone, who plays Barney, the bored leader of the titular mercenary group. Stallone and Statham go scout out the mission – the assassination of a general neck-deep in the drug trade – and are met by a woman who captures Barney’s heart. From there, complications in the form of Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin arise, and we can stop talking about the story here because nobody watching will care, nobody in it cares, and it seems nobody writing it cared. It does its one real job – to provide a framework for action scenes to ripple and glisten and explode all over the screen.

Eric Roberts is okay. Jet Li very ably plays “Walking Short Joke.” Randy Couture is decent as “Guy in Funny Hat Who Reads.” Terry Crews gets a couple laughs as “Guy with Gun That Makes Cool Poom-Poom Noise,” and splatters a few people very satisfactorily. Everyone else in the movie is pretty terrible, especially Leather Gandalf, who gets what’s supposed to be a touching, heartfelt monologue about the sanctity of life, while Stallone points the camera straight at Rourke’s lower lip, which is covered with more goo than a xenomorph. I guess it helps distract from the fact his story is making no fucking sense, and continues that way for what feels like 15 minutes.

But again, I’m measuring this film against stuff like “The Losers,” and “Commando,” not “Inception.” Most of the film is incomprehensibly edited. There is none of the surety with which Stallone staged his “Rambo” set-pieces, and the movie is splattered with shiny, shitty digital gore. The best action sequence in the film was given away for free on the internet weeks before release, wherein Jason Statham mans the guns of a plane from inside the nose-cone, and lays waste to a pier full of bad guys. Nothing else in the movie works from an action standpoint, especially the fight scenes. Hell, there isn’t a single fight in this movie that packs the punch Hit-Girl does in “Kick-Ass.”

I guess that’s the most disappointing thing about this movie. It’s been trading on its inherent masculinity for years now, promising a throwback to the days of muscled brawlers, bludgeoning action fans into a state of bruised bliss, scored by bullets and lots of shit going boom. “The Expendables” is a sweaty, squinty, glistening cannonball of pure testosterone, shaped like a fist and shot directly at the audience, and I can’t even say it hits like a girl, because I’ve seen 12 year old girls that hit harder than this.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:28 am  Comments Off on Review – The Expendables  
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