Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In short: The Expendables (2010)

The CIA (in a short scene that also includes a rather stupid cameo by that Schwarzenegger guy) embodied by cameo-Bruce Willis hires a not completely morally bankrupt group of mercenaries lead by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and spiritually mentored by a biker/tattooist/ex-mercenary (improvised by the curious mixture of decay and off-beat charisma that today is Mickey Rourke) to assassinate a South American dictator (David Zayas). But before the troop is really in, Barney and his right-hand man Christmas (everyone's except my favourite Hollywood action movie Brit of the last few years Jason Statham - and my problem isn't so much Statham himself but that all of his films are borderline unwatchable) go on a little sightseeing tour of the island.

Said tour ends with the acquaintance of the dictator's daughter Sandra (Giselle Itie) who turns out to be an enemy of all her dad stands for, the discovery that dad is controlled by a rogue CIA man (Eric Roberts eating the scenery's mother), and an exploding pier full of soldiers.

At first, Barney is determined not to take this particular job any further, but the memory of Sandra's moral uprightness in doing the right thing even when it means working against her own father and some rambling soul-searching with Mickey convince him otherwise.

After taking care of their rogue mercenary ex-friend Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) who has hired himself out to Mr Bad CIA Guy, Barney, Christmas and the rest of the gang (Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture) start a night attack on the bad guys' base.

The Expendables is another of Sylvester Stallone's attempts at milking his 80s action movie achievements and his audience's nostalgia for them for success and money, and like it was with the last Rambo movie, he sort of succeeds. The Expendables tries to go about the business of self-copying a bit differently than Rambo did, though.

Where that movie was all earnest and dramatic soul-searching and slaughter, The Expendables tries to be a bit lighter, uniting Stallone and other action guys of his (and later) generations not just for "looking for their souls" (yes, that's how the film likes to talk), but also for stupid quips and sometimes limp, sometimes charming attempts at self-irony. Well, that and slaughter.

As it was with Rambo's earnestness, this film's lightness doesn't convince me too much either. It's all well and good for Stallone to show he understands that much of the traditional action hero poses are more than a bit silly, but instead of, you know, doing something about that problem, he decides to go the way of least resistance and just wink at his audience and let his band of badly aging muscle men exactly do what they always did, reminding me at times unhappily of Wes Craven's Scream. Stallone also still doesn't have much of a clue about what to do with female characters apart from letting them save souls and be damsels in distress, but I didn't expect anything else from him in this respect. Speaking of being intellectually stuck in the past, it comes as no surprise that Terry Crews and the awesomeness that's still inside of Jet Li are sorely underused.

Fortunately, it's not all winking all the time, and much of the film's running time is spent on the loveable carnage Stallone as a director and as an actor is much better at than at trying to be Quentin Tarantino (or worse, profound). Once the film stops trying to be clever or to make a point, it's pretty much as physically immersive as action movies get, so much so that I didn't have any trouble just ignoring the rest of the movie and so enjoyed myself immensely.


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