Monday, August 30, 2010

The Expendables

There’s no excuse for The Expendables but then again, why should there have to be? This is a film that bathes in the excesses of its forefathers; a throwback to the 80s heyday of macho action heroes destroying everything in their sight in order to protect the girl/save the innocents/bring down the bad guy. You know the drill: no building left standing, no vehicle left uncharred, no faceless solider left breathing, no piece of grass left unsinged. I can’t, in any sort of good conscience, recommend it; it’s too shallow, too broad, too cheap looking, not witty enough and, as a throwback, lacks the kind of personality that made its referents so special, but anyone who sees it will, I suspect, be getting their money’s worth. Sylvester Stallone (who also directs and co-writes) stars as Barney Ross, the main badass in a team of ragtag elite fighters. They’re like the A-Team except, since they are all played by discernible action movie heroes of different varieties (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren) Stallone doesn’t rely on providing generic types so much as simply coasts on the presence of his stacked line-up. That’s fair. It’s like trading in one superficiality for another, but Stallone uses his team as a reason to coast through. Presence, after all, only goes so far if you don’t get to caring about the hero your tagging along with. Thus the film coasts lightly on the surface, afraid to ever delve deeper into any emotional interest lest it get in the way of blowing stuff up. It’s never really explained how The Expendables know each other, who pays their bills, and just whether or not what they are doing is technically legal. In fact, the only time we ever do get a glance at anything genuinely human is when Mickey Rourke, as the old dog who mans the HQ, conveys a painful story from his past and runs away with the movie. The mission, given to Stallone by a no-nonsense Bruce Willis, after being passed on by Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of the films "guilty pleasure" scenes, is to travel to a remote Latin American country and rid it of, oh I don’t know, anyone who doesn’t look like a friend to the U.S.? Ruling over the country is an evil dictator who is secretly at the mercy of an evil American ex-agent played by Eric Roberts, who, as far as villains go, is basically a stock character who stands around with a menacing scowl because these things need villains. It’s never quite explained what Roberts' purpose is, why he holds command over the dictator or what he wants to achieve but hey, his number one heavy is played by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. You see how it works? So the team visit the country, case it, meet a young beauty who is both a revolutionary and the general’s daughter, and narrowly escape after they are detected. But just to show those slimy South Americans, they blow the hell out of their harbour via airplane machine guns. What they actually discover when there is a mystery to me, but whatever it is, it prompts them to return with some serious firepower and lay waste to everything in their sights, all in order to, I guess, save the girl while, along the way, just for flavour, one of them crosses over onto the other team’s side. What more description of The Expendables does one need? A lot of things go boom while little plot gets in the way. The film is funny but not nearly funny enough and, as was the case with Stallone’s Rambo, the violence, at times, is far too serious to be taken as entertainment. At other times, when CGI is employed the film looks cheap: the bloodshed reminiscent of circa 1998 arcade violence. And yet there is a certain sense of freewheeling fun on display here. One must nod in admiration at a film that is willing to pull out all the stops and not apologize for it for better or worse and the film, for the most part, features action that feels more or less authentic. As a throwback the film undershoots its target but as an excessive display of recognizable faces laying waste to everything in their path well, what more did you really want?

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