I consider myself a decently sophisticated intellectual. I enjoy great literature – actually I hate reading (unless it’s Ayn Rand or Dave Mustaine’s new biography). I enjoy art – damn, it seems that I’ve caught myself in another lie. Okay, on second thought, maybe I’m not so respectable, but for the sake of maintaining readership, let’s just say that I’m quite the scholar (thank god that you can’t see the “Tunnel Rats” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” discs that I have on my desk … well, I just messed that up for myself). But all jokes aside, though I love cerebral and multi-dimensional filmmaking as much as the next film critic, I do like to sit down and watch testosterone-fueled men shoot each other to bits and that’s exactly what “The Expendables” promised. Thankfully, the film which is directed, co-written, and lead by Sylvester Stallone, who plays Barney Ross, the leader of a pack of mercenaries, packs quite a punch and thus luckily sidesteps the pitfalls of its stale, somewhat laughable script, and cliché ridden plot. It’s pure cheese – but it’s so goddamn delicious.
The “Expendables” are certainly an idiosyncratic bunch. Consisting of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), the knife expert, Ying Yang (Jet Li), the marital artists extraordinaire, demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), heavy weapons virtuoso Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and of course, all around badass Barney Ross, the Expendables live up to their reputation as guns for hire when the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) commissions the group to kill a merciless dictator on a small South American island. Like all good soldiers, Ross and Lee go to the island to get a tactical advantage, where they meet Sandra, who turns out to be the dictator’s daughter but who also wants to destroy his leadership for the good of the island’s people. Of course, the local army catches on to Lee and Ross, and thus they are forced to make their escape – without Sandra, who chooses to stay behind. However, when they return, Ross is forced with the decision of either leaving Sandra to die or sending his team on a suicidal rescue mission that promises to save whether is left of his cold soul.
The first thing that I want to bring up is the overhyped and proclaimed return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. First of all, he’s unaccredited for his work as Trench, an ex-Expendable, who Ross encounters during his meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis is also unaccredited). Secondly the entire conversation between Trench and Ross seems inorganic and just lacks chemistry. The entire six or so minutes that Schwarzenegger is on screen, it seems fake and forced and sadly, that’s because his cameo is just a cheap way of squeezing in another star for the already formidable cast. However, if Stallone decides to make a sequel (which he will, in fact, it’s already in discussion) and it manages to squeeze in some back-story for Trench’s character, I have no doubt that Schwarzenegger has the capability of shooting down bad guys once again (because shooting down financial plans must be boring as hell).
Speaking of fleshing out characters, Trench isn’t the only one who deserves such treatment. Mr. Church is another example, he just pops out from out of the blue and it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference if someone besides Bruce Willis played him. I was also surprised on how little screen time Mickey Rourke’s character, Tool, has. Throughout the entire film, Tool only contributes to three scenes – one for each act. It’s established that Christmas and Tool want to one-up each other, and I think that it’d be a perfect set up for some rivalry during the film’s action sequences, which I must say right now – are incredibly indulgent.
The actors all have excellent input in these explosive scenes. Statham, Li, Stallone, Crews, and Couture have great chemistry which just seems to magnify while shooting bad-guys. These scenes are what make “The Expendables” so enjoyable and it’s very easy to tell that the film was written to cater to those who enjoy the retro-80s action film, which I just happen to love. It’s scenes like these that act like a blast from the past, and I couldn’t have it any other way.
However, it seems that I can’t stop returning to the problems in the film’s script. Statham, though fun to watch in action, is given way too much subplot. There’s an entire ex-girlfriend fiasco going on with his character, which doesn’t further the film in any way, shape, or form and it’s superfluities like these that deserve to get scrapped all-together. The script also has trouble giving Paine (Steve Austin), who is meant to be the ruthless right-hand man of the criminal mastermind, James Munroe (Eric Roberts), any form of personality and thus his character just stands as a mindless meat-head. But Roberts isn’t worth mentioning either as his character is just a rehash of the typical – I scream thus I’m powerful American businessman.
Another actor that I hated was Couture. He is meant to be the comic relief of the group but when you blurt out lines like “it’s not easy being green” and “you should meet my doctor” in a comedic matter, there’s something wrong with you. On top of that, Couture is involved in one of the stupidest scenes that “The Expendables” has to offer (and that’s saying something) and this involves him punching a body that is completely engulfed in flames (and you can’t ignore the full-body shot afterwards – wow, really dramatic guys).
But two actors that I really enjoyed, which I didn’t expect to like this much, were Dolph Lungren and Jet Li. Of course, Lungren plays Gunner Jensen, a drug-using ex-Expendable who betrays the team following an altercation in which Ross tells Jensen that he is not trusted because of his drug habits. Lungren plays the character off perfectly and anyone who manages to make the word “insect” an insult and still make it somewhat cool deserves recognition. Li also does a great job of playing on his small size (compared to the rest of the cast) and also of pulling off a long-running joke involving a pay-raise for his “family.” Li is definitely the black sheep of the cast but he really surprises in this one.
In all, “The Expendables” is a short but sweet adventure that strides past the danger of losing the novelty of the cast. But is it expendable? Sure, but who can resist seeing a movie like this? Certainly not I, and I don’t regret it at all.
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