Identical Spec Ops Action Movie #3: The Expendables Review

poster from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

Welcome to the third and final review in the Identical Spec-Ops Action Movies That Came Out in the Summer of 2010 series. You can read the first two reviews in the series, The Losers and The A-Team here and here. This last installment is called The Expendables, and features nearly every member of the meathead action movie actor club (except Steven Segal and Jean Claude Van Damme), so I fully expected it to be awful. Imagine my surprise when it actually turned out to be pretty good.

The premise is, of course, identical to the other three movies:

A handful of operatives known as the best in their field find themselves betrayed and facing impossible odds of survival as they attempt to perform ridiculous feats of physics-defying action to get their lives back and stop a bad guy from doing something really bad.

…though it’s slightly less identical because they’re mercenaries. Getting betrayed is something that happens to them every other week, so it’s not such a big deal here. And instead of getting their lives back if they win, they get money, which is pretty much the same thing to a mercenary.

The plot, in movies that involve Sylvester Stallone and company, is usually nothing more than an excuse to engage in violence. The main reason I found The Expendables enjoyable was that the plot is actually fairly complex. No doubt this can be attributed to Dave Callaham rather than Sylvester Stallone, though both are credited screenwriters. Like Salt, The Expendables seems like it was written in another era.

the General's house from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

specifically the Contra/Just Cause era in the late 80s when the CIA was heavily into messing around in South American politics

The CIA hires them to kill a dictator, they recon, find a girl named Sandra (Giselle Itie) and an insane job, like the girl, take the insane job anyway. That’s standard. But there’s also a thread involving the girl, her father General Garza (David Zayas), and James Monroe (Eric Roberts), the American pulling the strings in the background, that smacks of actual effort going into writing the script.

Eric Roberts holding the girl hostage from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

even though it all degenerates into “back off or I kill her” in the end anyway

The thing I like best about the story is that even though it’s all about the girl, it’s not about getting the girl, it’s about doing the right thing for once. They didn’t try to shoehorn a lot of emotional stuff in, which I appreciated, considering none of the actors could have pulled it off (except Rourke and maybe Statham).

Charisma Carpenter and Jason Statham from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

Though “anger” seems to be his go-to emotion

The type of actors they were working with (i.e. meatheads) probably accounts for why characterization is almost non-existent in The Expendables. They only make a token effort with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and Tool (Mickey Rourke), and Tool isn’t even a main character. Barney wants to save the girl. Lee’s girlfriend Lacy (Charisma Carpenter) dumped him, and Tool is carrying some guilt over a previous job.

Mickey Rourke from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

maybe they just threw Rourke a weepy bone because he’s an Oscar nominee

But all we really know about any of the others is that they have retarded names and a wide array of accents that are hard to make out: German (Lundgren), lower-class English (Statham), Chinese (Li), mushmouth (Stallone), etc. We get a token tidbit about each, but it’s not enough to make them any more than one dimensional. Ying Yang (Jet Li) is short, Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) is obsessed with shotguns, Toll Road (Randy Couture) has a mangled ear, and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) is crazy.

Gunner goes crazy from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

which is attributed to drugs, but we never see him using, so maybe it’s just that he got hit in the head too many times

Arnold Schwarzenegger (aka King Meathead) and Bruce Willis also make cameos in The Expendables, but they could easily be replaced by sheets of paper or a recorded message. They’re only there for the “look who it is, kids!” factors.

Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

or “look who is is, old guys,” because fans of the meathead club are all about 50 by now

According to the IMDB trivia, Jean Claude Van Damme actually rejected a role in The Expendables because it lacked characterization, so you know they all have to be blocks of frigging wood, considering how many of Van Damme’s other roles have been cardboard cutouts (i.e. all of them). The other Expendables are just there to cut throats, which is all most action movie fans want anyway. And speaking of throat cutting, there’s an awful lot of it.

Jason Statham stabbing a guy in the ball from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

and stomach slashing, and back stabbing, and face gouging

Several of the fellows prefer knives to guns, so you’ll get your quota of arterial spray in this movie, as well as your quota for face punching, explosions, automatic weapon fire, and people’s torsos being separated from their legs by giant shotgun shells. By far the coolest weapon they have, though, is their attack seaplane, which is both awesome and totally practical for sneaking up on Somali pirate ships and dictator-controlled islands.

Grumman HU-16 from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

It’s a Grumman HU-16, in case you were curious

I always like movies better when they involve airplanes and use them in a way I’ve never seen before. There’s a scene near the beginning where they blow up a dock using dumped fuel and a flare gun that made me sit up and take notice. I can’t say whether I’d have liked the movie as much if they had a boat instead.

Most of the fighting takes place on the ground, though, and they mix in a lot of hand-to-hand combat with the gunfights to keep things interesting. For the most part it’s as realistic as you can really get in an action movie, but there was one move that they kept doing where they lifted bad guys up and smashed their heads on the ground that seemed like an extravagant waste of energy. It looked kind of cool, but also kind of familiar. Then it hit me:

a slam move from the WWE

duh, it’s a WWE move, because half these guys used to be wrestlers

Also ridiculous was some of the boneheaded dialogue, the shoehorned in exposition (some of which had nothing to do with anything), and the fact that even though they were supposed to be sneaky, none of the mercenaries seemed to have any idea what a muffler was.

the Expendables on their motorcycles from the Lionsgate film The Expendables

Dur, we like loud noises. Brum brum!!

But you know what? I believe that stuff from these guys. They’re meatheads, so of course their jokes will be lame, they’ll struggle with the “smart” stuff, and they’ll be in love with ridiculous looking motorbikes.

So I ended up enjoying the movie. I’ll even give it a recommendation. But I have to qualify my “go see this movie” with an “if you like meathead action stars, explosions, gunfights, or World Wrestling Entertainment.” Because it wasn’t THAT good. It wasn’t genius fun like The A-Team, or flat out hilarious like The Losers. So it ranks at #3 on this three movie list, but it is an old fashioned blow-em-up good time.

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