Friday, September 17, 2010

'Expendable' sounds about right

“The Expendables” is all too aptly named. This is the epitome of expendable entertainment. There's almost no redeemable qualities and it wastes the talent of its performers and the time of its viewers.

While we're on the subject of the title, which is the name of a group of mercenaries for hire, why would said group choose such a name? It doesn't exactly instill much faith in your clients or your crew. At one point team member Dolph Lundgren throws a fit and goes traitor after he isn't allowed on the latest mission. Dude, haven't you been paying attention: You're expendable.

Directed, co-written and starring Sylvester Stallone, “The Expendables” is meant to be a throwback to the rough-and-tumble shoot-em ups that were Stallone's mainstay in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also meant to act, in theory, as a reunion of all the major action heavyweights from the 1980s through to the 2000s, but this is a bit of a misnomer.

Stallone is here as is Lundgren, his former nemesis from “Rocky IV,” along with Jet Li and the relatively newest action star on the block, Jason Statham. The rest of the roster is filled by ultimate fighter Randy Coutre, wrestler Steve Austin and former football star Terry Crews. These three aren't exactly the shining stars of action films.

Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme are sorely missing from this action rodeo. Seagal wisely chose to do “Machete” over this, and Van Damme just flat-out passed on the movie. In a video on YouTube, Van Damme explains he was offered a part, but when he asked Stallone what the character was Stallone didn't have an answer. Never a good sign.

Trailers for the film have made a big deal out of the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, but this is just another letdown. Schwarzenegger and Willis share a single scene with Stallone. Seeing these three together should be a major screen moment akin to Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro's scene in “Heat,” but clumsy writing kills the excitement. There's a punchline involving Schwarzeneggar that is suppose to get a big laugh, but it is more groan inducing.

The idea of an action movie reunion is a good one, but Stallone isn't a strong enough of a director visually or tonally to pull it off. If someone like Robert Rodriquez or Quentin Tarantino were at the reins, a knowing homage could have been pulled out of this gimmick.

A movie like this should be fun, but Stallone takes the material far too serious. The plot, what there is of one, involves saving a fictional island country from a dictator who is really just a figure head for a drug lord (Eric Roberts, trying to have fun chewing the scenerybefore it blows up).

Given how many years Stallone has starred in action films and that he has directed a fair share himself, it is amazing how bad an eye he has for composing a good action sequence. The shootouts, explosions and and fist fights are muddled, dimly lit and ultimately boring.

As for the acting, Stallone at this point is nothing more than a juiced-up caricature of himself. Lundgren oddly looks like an anorexic on steroids, and his marble-mouthed line delivery is painful. Coutre and Austin are no better. Statham, who has genuine charisma and acting abilities, tries his best, but is hampered by the lackluster script.

Li is completely wasted. Nearly every line of dialogue about his character is a short joke. Li even has to deliver lines about how he deserves a bigger cut of the money because he is smaller and things are harder for him. I hope in real life Li was given a very large sum of the money for putting up with Stallone's embarrassing, borderline racist attempts at humor.

The one oasis in this wasteland is Mickey Rourke as the crew's tattoo artist and agent of sorts. He only has a few scenes, but he leaves a more lasting impression than anyone else in the movie. He has a monologue about the loss of his soul that actually means something. It belongs in a better movie.

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