Ancient Muscle

'The Expendables' is just awful—but our resident Stallone addict is still looking forward to the sequel

I get excited for every Sylvester Stallone movie, no matter how much it looks like it could suck. Whether Sly is paired with one of the Golden Girls, arm-wrestling truckers, or wearing a dress and hooking in downtown Detroit, I'm giving the movie a chance.

As I sat waiting for the lights to go down for The Expendables, I reminisced about my first Stallone experience. I was 8, and my dad had taken me to see Rocky. We walked in late and joined the movie during the scene in which Rocky is staring at himself in the mirror and talking about turtle food. I was transfixed by this weird-looking, strange-talking guy. I made my dad sit through two showings of the film.

Stallone was 30 then. Now, with The Expendables, which he co-wrote and directed, he is 64 years old (63 during filming), and he's still quite the physical specimen. He looks a little thinner than he did for the last Rambo, when he was swollen and kind of looked like the Cloverfield monster.

But as for this movie ... let's just say dear-old Dad and I wouldn't want to sit through a second showing.

What promises to be an old-school action throwback winds up being nothing but a modern, tepid action dud. Sloppy editing, boneheaded dialogue and terribly done gore make this something for genre fans to avoid.

It's being billed as a meeting of action megastars, a Clash of the Titans without the Kraken (although with those artificial muscles and super veins, Stallone is a credible Kraken substitute). But I do not consider Jet Li, Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture action superstars; these are the guys for whom the direct-to-video bargain bin was made. They are actually a notch below meatballs like Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who allegedly passed on this project.

Sure, Jason Statham is on hand, but after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch—his first two movies—I've found him underwhelming. Mickey Rourke shows up as a former mercenary turned tattoo artist, and gets a chance to cry and drool during a melodramatic speech.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis drop by for a scene with Stallone, and admittedly, their 3 minutes is almost worth the price of admission. Bruno still looks good, while Arnie is showing some wear and tear—but the three do look cool together.

Perhaps you've noticed I haven't really talked about plot yet. That's because the plot is as disposable as the handi-wipes that, I'm sure, were in vast abundance on the set in order for Mickey Rourke to wipe the drool from his face between takes.

Stallone plays the leader of some mercenary group called The Expendables. He gets their logo tattooed on his back, and Statham has the logo emblazoned on his motorcycle. These actions would not be advisable for hired contract killers trying to keep their identities secret, but, hey, it is a neat name for guys who murder people ... or a speed-metal band.

Early on, Gunner (the remarkably inarticulate Lundgren), one of the group's more unstable guys, goes schizoid during a mission and tries to hang a murdered body for decorative purposes. For this offense, they expel Gunner from the group. Killing without mercy is fine, but The Expendables say "no" when it comes to treating their victims like ceiling fans. It's just not classy.

The rest of The Expendables (Statham, Li, Couture and Terry Crews) go up against another team of mercenaries, consisting of Austin and the acting powerhouse that is Eric Roberts. The whole mess also involves some nonsense about a South American dictator (David Zayas) and his pretty daughter (Giselle Itié), for whom Sly risks his life—but he doesn't kiss her, because she is 27, and that would be gross.

The action scenes are sparse, with too much time spent showing Sly and Statham chatting while flying planes, and on a weak subplot involving Statham's girlfriend. Also, Stallone opts for CGI gore, a total no-no for cinema purists like me. Blood spurts and limbs disengage with all the finesse of an '80s Saturday-morning cartoon. Blasphemy!

There is one scene involving an airplane and a dock that gets high marks for originality, and there's one neck-breaking kick moment that got an audible reaction out of me. (I yelled "Ow!") But Stallone utilizes quick-cut editing, and that ruins his fight scenes. I've seen the raw footage of Stallone's smackdown with Steve Austin, and it was brutal, resulting in Sly's head being split open. In the movie, it's just a shoddily edited, revved-up haze of chemically enhanced bodies flailing around and grunting.

Crews has some nice moments with his really big gun, a loud piece of machinery that pulverizes everything in its path. I liked this gun. In fact, had the movie been called Terry Crews Has a Big Fucking Gun, and had it consisted of 90 minutes of Crews blowing shit up, we might've had something here.

Stallone has plans for a sequel, and says he wants Schwarzenegger to have a bigger part. That would be fine—if he trades computer blood and melodramatic subplots for more Arnie. And rather than having Rourke in the sequel, Stallone needs to send him out to irrigate some crops with his leaky face. Botched plastic surgery is a bitch.

I am looking forward to the sequel, no matter how bad this movie is, and no matter how much Stallone's juiced forearms swell up. What can I say? I'm an addict, and even after a bad fix, I want more.


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